'Rude and disruptive' employee loses bullying claim

Case sheds light on the importance of Performance Improvement Plans for HR leaders

'Rude and disruptive' employee loses bullying claim

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has recently dismissed a bullying claim by a "rude" and "disruptive" employee, saying the basis of his application was a “reasonable management action".

The employee said he was treated “like a child in detention” in front of other colleagues. When confronted by a female manager about poor performance, he said “she is not my mother or teacher". The FWC said that the employee “would have been unlikely to have addressed his manager in such a condescending and rude manner if his manager was male.”

The employee was an account manager tasked to manage business customers. He was subject to performance indicators, including a target number of calls to be made each month. He failed to meet the monthly target, so his employer put him on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). He refused to sign the PIP and rejected “both its process and substance".

He said the PIP put him under “conditions of work” that were not applied to his peers, “such as not being able to listen to podcasts". The employer then informed him of a meeting to discuss “disciplinary action against him” for breach of their code of conduct, such as speaking and treating his manager in an “inappropriate and disrespectful nature".

The employer also said he was “dismissive” of performance targets set by the management, “preferring to pursue his own priorities and methodology". It also said that he referred to his female manager “by masculine terms including ‘dude’ and ‘bro,’ continuing after she asked him not to.” He also “openly questioned and criticised her conduct and experience.”

In its decision, the FWC said that the monthly call targets, which was the PIP’s basis, were a “reasonable and lawful direction.”

Considering the evidence, the FWC said the employee had been “rude and disruptive” and agreed he “should have been placed on the PIP” for his disregard of company policy. It also said the management’s decision was “reasonable” and the employee “had not been bullied at work.” Thus, the FWC dismissed his application.

Takeaways for HR leaders

  • Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) are an effective way tackling disruptive behaviour in the workplace. HR leaders should always consider performance-improving measures when dealing with employee-related issues, instead of opting for immediate dismissal.
  • Rudeness in the workplace should be addressed by HR when it arises. HR leaders should approach situations with care and caution, always ensuring they follow legal guidelines.

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