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Employment Law – Ex-Employee Restraint Clause Unenforceable    

Employment Law – Background

The Victorian Court of Appeal reaffirmed a decision that an employer was unable to enforce a restraint clause against an employee. The accounting firm’s breach of an employment contract consequently ended its right to enforce a restraint clause against the accountant. The case highlights the importance of carefully assessing any differing views between the employee and employer in employment law.

Employment Law – Facts

In essence:

  • the employee-accountant signed an employment contract in 2012
  • the contract contained a restraint clause that operated for 12 months. Notably, the terms were found to be reasonable by judges in earlier cases
  • the accounting firm expanded its business over 2015-16
  • the accounting firm denied the accountant certain bonuses he believed he was entitled to
  • as a result, the accountant requested payment to which the employer refused
  • the accountant took a week’s leave. A few days after he returned, he informed the employer he considered the refusal to pay the bonuses as a repudiation of the employment contract
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Employment Law – Unenforceable Restraints

Employment Law – Background

An ex-employee’s post-termination restraints have been deemed unenforceable by the Supreme Court of Victoria. This case highlights the impact of employer’s actions on the validity of a contract of employment. Furthermore, it highlights the limits of post-employment restraints in employment law. The failure to remunerate an employee can result in a constructive dismissal. Consequently, post-employment restraints may become ineffective.

Post-employment restraints are inserted in contracts of employment to prevent an employee working elsewhere. In addition, it prevents the ex-employee from engaging with former clients for a period of time.

Employment Law – Facts

In essence:

  • the employee was engaged as the managing principal of the employer’s Launceston office
  • the employer refused to pay bonuses to the employee from late 2015 to July 2016. However, such bonuses were guaranteed in the employee’s contract of employment
  • the employee argued that the failure to pay the bonuses was a breach of the contract of employment
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Employment Law – Ex-Director Restrained by IP

Employment Law – Background

Climate Change Technology P/L (‘CCT’) has sought an interlocutory injunction to restrain a former director and inventor of a thermal energy battery.  The employment law decision raises the importance of documenting relationships.

Employment Law – Facts

In essence:

  • first of all, Dr Patrick Glynn was employed by CCT between 2011 and 2016. He was its principal research officer and director. In addition, Dr Glynn was appointed its chief executive towards the end of his tenure at CCT
  • he invented a thermal energy storage device and assigned a patent to it in 2011. Furthermore, he signed an intellectual property agreement
  • CCT submitted that they spent about $5 million over the last six years on researching and developing the device and associated technology
  • when Dr Glynn quit in 2016, he allegedly retained intellectual property and confidential information in relation to the device. Furthermore, he set up another research and development company and an umbrella company
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Misuse of Confidential Information – Evidence relied upon after the fact

In the recent decision of Finemore v CMIB Insurance Services Pty Limited [2016] FWC 8517, an employer successfully relied upon evidence of misuse of its confidential information discovered following the termination of employment, in order to defend itself from an unfair dismissal claim.

The Facts

The Applicant had been employed by the Respondent (a small business employer) for approximately six years, most recently in the role of Account Executive. The Applicant was employed under a written employment contract containing several post-employment obligations including an obligation to preserve the Respondent’s confidential information

On 28 April 2016, the Applicant notified the Respondent that she was resigning her employment, and provided one month’s notice of resignation.  The Respondent accepted the Applicant’s resignation and confirmed the Applicant’s final day of employment would be 31 May 2016.

However, on 3 May 2016, the Respondent discovered that the Applicant had emailed to her personal email address a detailed Excel spreadsheet (along with other confidential files) shortly after submitting her resignation. The Respondent’s directors directed the Applicant to attend a meeting, at which time the allegations were put to her. The Respondent considered the Applicant’s responses to the allegations to be unsatisfactory, and summarily terminated her employment on the ground of serious misconduct.
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