An unfair dismissal claim brought by a forklift driver, who lied about working for a competitor while signed off work, has been thrown out by the Fair Work Commission (FWC), but what lessons are to be taken from this case?

With scathing comments from Deputy President Sams describing the worker’s evidence as “riddled with nonsensical and irrelevant propositions” and “downright lies” it may seem that the employee is the only party to be taught a lesson here.

However, there are some lessons for employers here too. Prior to the case reaching the Commission, the company had attempted to conduct a thorough workplace investigation into the employee’s alleged misconduct, but he refused to take part. Deputy President Sams stated;

“It must be emphasised that employees have a duty to cooperate with an employer’s investigation of their conduct. It is paramount to getting to the bottom of the allegations and may go to mitigating against an otherwise more serious outcome, if the misconduct is found to have occurred.”

Although an employer may not be able to force a worker to cooperate, it is important that the benefits of cooperation are stressed, not only to respondents who are seeking a fair hearing when their behaviour is questioned, but also to complainants and witnesses, whose testimony in cases, particularly of bullying or harassment, may be pivotal in identifying and tackling poor behaviour. The deputy president went on to say:

Where an employee deliberately sets out to lie during an investigation, it is even more serious than a lack of cooperation or failure to disclose relevant information. It could well be viewed as misconduct of itself.”

This is another point which must be stressed to workers, particularly in workplace investigations into complaints of workplace bullying or harassment where there is a question over the veracity of the claims. Giving false or misleading information can do untold damage which is why deliberately derailing an investigation can be cause for disciplinary action.

Workplace bullying training provided to employees should be comprehensive and cover the bringing of vexatious or frivolous claims. It should also highlight the duty of every worker to create an environment free from poor behaviour; part of this duty may be reporting behaviour witnessed or taking part in an investigation if asked to do so.

Not every worker is a “practised, consummate, but utterly implausible manipulator of words and events” as DP Sams described the worker in this case to be. However, some workers may find it difficult to be truthful when it could get them or a colleague in trouble, perhaps where they have condoned or joined in with inappropriate behaviour. For this reason, it should be stressed to all workers the simple truth that when in strife, lying will only make things worse.

 

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