Employer fires worker for causing manager's nervous breakdown – is it unfair dismissal?

Worker allegedly gave the general manager an 'ultimatum'

Employer fires worker for causing manager's nervous breakdown – is it unfair dismissal?

The Fair Work Commission recently dealt with a case involving a worker claiming she was unfairly dismissed for allegedly instructing her manager to terminate an employee.

In its defense, the employer contended that such a request from the worker caused a significant burden to the manager, leading to her being hospitalized for one month.

Did the worker give an ultimatum?

At the time of her dismissal, the worker was a sales representative/removal consultant for a removalist company that provided local, interstate, and overseas removal and storage services in the Gold Coast.

Around October 2022, the worker was out of the office, inspecting when a colleague contacted her. The colleague then informed her that the employer called a staff meeting where he proposed to terminate the worker's employment.

Hence, the worker returned to her workplace and was called into the employer's office. During their conversation, the employer told the worker, "I have decided to let you go. We all blame you for what happened with Kathy [general manager]."

Such an accusation from the general manager’s father arose when the company hired “Jane” — not her real name. The worker would then give Jane paperwork whenever the worker returned from quoting jobs.

After some time, the worker observed that Jane allegedly did her work incorrectly. Thus, she informed the general manager about Jane's performance and allegedly said that her colleague should be dismissed or else the worker herself would leave.

Consequently, the general manager dismissed Jane, which led to the former working seven days a week for about three weeks to keep up with the work causing her to be stressed and have a nervous breakdown.

Meanwhile, the worker argued that her dismissal came as a surprise because she was dismissed on account of Kathy — the general manager — being hospitalized. 

She argued that she never made an ultimatum to the general manager. Instead, the worker claimed that the general manager asked her to come upstairs to discuss Jane's performance and create a plan of action to improve Jane’s work.

FWC's decision

After examining the case details, the Commission found the worker's dismissal as harsh, unjust, and unreasonable.

"The decision to dismiss her appears to me to have been irrational and an unfair emotional response from a father in respect of his daughter's medical situation," the FWC said, noting that the employer was the father of the general manager.

The Commission also said that while the general manager's work obligations became overbearing and harmed her mental health, it was, after all, her decision as the general manager to dismiss Jane.

Hence, the worker was not the primary person to blame as there was not enough evidence to draw any causal connection between the general manager’s hospitalization and the worker’s actions. Ultimately, the FWC ordered the payment of compensation to the worker amounting to over $20,000.

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