'Confused' worker tries to clarify ‘unclear’ dismissal date

Employer refuses to speak with worker after sending termination letter

'Confused' worker tries to clarify ‘unclear’ dismissal date

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) recently dealt with an unfair dismissal application filed by a worker against his former employer.

The decision, which was handed down on 8 May 2024, sheds light on the importance of clear communication during the dismissal process and the consequences of failing to do so.

In this case, the worker's confusion about the effective date of his dismissal took centre stage. The employer's lack of direct communication and ambiguous messages left the worker uncertain about his employment status.

The worker's dismissal and confusion

The worker, who filed the unfair dismissal application on 22 March 2024, claimed that he was dismissed by his employer on 28 February 2024, with the dismissal taking effect on 29 February 2024.

However, during the hearing, the worker provided uncontested evidence that he was "very unclear about the date his dismissal took effect because the [employer] refused to speak with him directly about his dismissal."

The communication between the worker and his employer was limited to a "Slack message exchange" followed by a termination letter. According to records, the Slack messages failed to clarify when the worker's employment would end, leaving him in a state of uncertainty.

The termination letter and its implications

The termination letter, dated 28 February 2024, stated that the worker's employment would end on 29 March 2024. The employer later claimed that this date was a mistake and that the worker knew it to be an error since he did not work after that date.

However, the FWC noted that there was no evidence to suggest that the employer took any steps to clarify the effective date of dismissal with the worker.

The worker's evidence revealed that he understood 29 March 2024 to be the effective date of his dismissal, as he was entitled to a four-week notice period. The FWC considered this to be a reasonable assumption on the worker's part.

The FWC's decision

After examining the evidence, the FWC found that "there was a high level of confusion by the [worker] as to the date his dismissal was to take effect, caused in large part by the refusal of the [employer] to speak with the [worker], and because the termination letter states unequivocally that his employment would end on 29 March 2024."

The FWC emphasised the importance of clear communication, stating that "Given this set of circumstances, I consider it reasonable for the [worker] to have relied on what the [employer] put in writing in the termination letter, that being that the effective date of dismissal was 29 March 2024."

Consequently, the FWC determined that the worker's dismissal took effect on 29 March 2024, and the application for an unfair dismissal remedy was filed within the 21-day timeframe allowed by the Fair Work Act 2009.

Matter referred to conciliation

The decision highlighted the crucial role of clear and direct communication during the dismissal process. Employers must ensure that they convey the effective date of dismissal to employees in a manner that leaves no room for confusion or misinterpretation.

As the FWC stated, "To the extent the application has been made prematurely, in that the application was made on 22 March and the dismissal did not take effect until 29 March 2024, I exercise the Commission's discretion under s.586(b) which allows me to waive an irregularity in the form or manner in which an application is made."

The case will now proceed to conciliation, where the parties will have an opportunity to resolve the matter through a guided discussion facilitated by the FWC.

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