Brothers go head-to-head in employment lawsuit

Allegations of bullying, harassment lead to termination

Brothers go head-to-head in employment lawsuit

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) recently dealt with a case involving a worker/business owner alleging that adverse actions were taken against him by his co-business owner.

Interestingly, the case involved two brothers who started a pasta manufacturing business when they were both younger men but now have a strained relationship.

Harassment complaints

The issue started around 2013 when there was a rearrangement of superannuation funds and, consequently, the worker stopped being the company director.

Three years later, the relationship between the brothers/business owners began to deteriorate. The worker who filed the claim said he began to complain about his employment.

Meanwhile, in November 2020, the worker's brother alleged that the worker had engaged in bullying and harassment of employees in the company.

The brother informed the worker that a workplace investigation would commence and that the worker would be suspended from employment on full pay until the investigation was completed.

His brother also advised him not to attend work nor perform any work-related activities, not to enter the business premises, and not to have contact with other employees or stakeholders of the company.

However, the brother still had contact with the company's employees, which, according to his brother, was a breach of the lawful and reasonable directions given to him.

The worker also attended the office to deliver correspondence and give farewell to a long-term employee who had resigned.

Termination of employment

As a result, his brother, through the solicitors, wrote to the worker informing him that his employment had been terminated, effective immediately, for failing to follow reasonable directions.

Meanwhile, the worker contended that the company, through his brother, subjected him to adverse actions because he made a series of complaints and inquiries about his employment.

However, in his submission, the worker was not pursuing any rectification of the wrongdoings allegedly done to him. 

The Court noted that the worker was "repeatedly asserting his rights as a business owner and 50% shareholder.”

HRD previously reported about a case involving two "best mates" turned workmates turned rivalries in court due to an unfair dismissal case application.

Court's decision

Ultimately, the FCFCOA decided to dismiss the worker's application as it found that the company, through his brother, did not take any adverse action against the worker.

Contrary to the worker's claim, the Court pointed out that the company decided to terminate the worker's employment on the grounds that he attended the business premises.

In doing so, the worker failed to comply with the lawful and reasonable directions given to him in writing.

The Court also noted that the company did not, in any way, terminate the worker because of their desire to prevent the worker from exercising his workplace rights.

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