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Employment Law – Background

The Fair Work Commission has criticised a company for misconstruing an employee’s extended absence on certified sick leave as a refusal to work.

Most noteworthy, the HR team dismissed the mentally unwell supervisor via email.

The decision highlights the importance of due process in the dismissal of employees while having regard to human dignity.

Employment Law – Facts

In essence:

  • the customer service supervisor was employed at Komatsu
  • the supervisor said he was “directed” to take sick leave in March 2015 due to “health and well-being”
  • he failed to meet his sales budget KPI’s. As a result, he was placed on a performance improvement plan in August 2015
  • the supervisor began experiencing mental health issues in March 2016. Consequently, he was taken off the performance improvement plan
  • furthermore, he experienced difficulties with his new manager which also contributed to his mental health problems
  • Komatsu encouraged the supervisor to participate in a return to work plan
  • additionally, Komatsu reconfigured its management structures to prevent the supervisor interacting with his previous manager
  • the supervisor was dismissed via email in November 2016

Employment Law – Decision

The Fair Work Commission:

  • held that the medical evidence confirmed the employee’s incapacity to work rather than his refusal to perform work
  • held there was no valid reason for the dismissal
  • underlined the need to establish the illness was not genuine in order to treat absence as a refusal to work
  • noted the mandatory opportunity for an employee to be provided with a ‘show cause’ meeting before any dismissal is made
  • stressed that dismissal via electronic means should be “strenuously avoided”
  • suggested Komatsu review its employee management practices
  • therefore ordered Komatsu to pay the supervisor $1,250 in compensation

The decision is available for you to read through the hyperlink:

John Finnegan v Komatsu Forklift Australia Pty Ltd [2017] FWC 2433 (10 May 2017)

Employment Law – Tips for Employers

Our Matthews Folbigg Workplace Solutions employment law team recommends employers:

  • review this Fair Work Commission decision
  • seek the assistance of an employment lawyer to understand the impacts of this Fair Work Commission decision
  • ensure proper performance management employment law policies and procedures are in place. Additionally, employers should ensure they are regularly reviewed, updated, and are fairly and consistently applied in practice
  • train HR staff about this Fair Work Commission decision
  • engage an employment lawyer if you are unsure about the due process in the termination of employment
  • speak to an employment lawyer to review your employee management practices

Employment Law – More Information

Please call the leading employment lawyers in Parramatta, the Matthews Folbigg Workplace Solutions employment law team on 9635-7966 to speak with one of our employment lawyers.