Can an employer immediately demote a worker for missing a shift?

Customer service manager overslept due to medication

Can an employer immediately demote a worker for missing a shift?

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) dealt with a case of a worker claiming unfair dismissal after she did not accept her employer’s demotion that started with her missing a shift.

The employee started employment in 2007 as a customer service manager (a CCM role). The role essentially encompassed being in charge of the employer’s call centre.

Notified of demotion

In December 2021, the employee slept in due to a medication side effect and missed the start of her shift. Afterward, she told the employer that she was unwell and could not attend work.

Later that same day, the employer notified the employee that she would be demoted from her managerial role to an investigator role and have her salary reduced by 23.5%.

A letter then arrived by courier on 24 December confirming the demotion. The employee refused to sign the demotion letter, arguing that she “considered her demotion and salary reduction illegal,” and the courier left the employee’s home without a signed copy of the demotion letter.

In January 2022, the employee was offered a new role. The reported salary of the proposed position was 11.8% lower than her previous CCM role. The employee was given ten minutes to decide whether to accept the role or not.

The employee got upset and advised the employer that she needed to visit the doctor. Shortly after leaving the building, the employer told the employee that she had deserted her employment and was dismissed.

The employee argued that she had no opportunity to respond, while the employer said she had abandoned her employment the moment she walked out of the workplace.

Recently, the FWC also dealt with a case involving an employee who alleged she was unfairly dismissed from work after refusing to cover a colleague’s shift.

The FWC’s findings

In the CCM case, the FWC found that the employee was “unilaterally demoted and [her] salary [was] unilaterally reduced.”

The employer “had no right to demote the [employee] in the manner it did,” the FWC ruled.  It likewise found that the demotion was a “substantial breach” of her employment contract.

As to the employee’s conduct of removing herself from the workplace to visit her doctor, the FWC said it was done “in [the] context of pressure to accept or reject a proposed role within ten minutes,” thus, the FWC said it was not a valid reason for dismissal.

The FWC ultimately held that there was no valid reason for dismissal. It had observed that there has been “a total absence of procedural fairness.” Thus, it ordered the employer to pay compensation.

The FWC also reminded employers how to communicate appropriately with workers. “In order to be given an opportunity to respond, the employee must be made aware of allegations concerning the employee’s conduct so as to enable them to respond to the allegations and must be given an opportunity to defend themselves,” it said. 

The commission recently dealt with a case involving an employee who alleged he was unfairly dismissed from work as the employer breached the contract agreement stipulating that his continuation should be subjected to review.

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