Fired for 'verbally abusing' manager? Worker cries unfair dismissal amid health issues

Employer argues worker called manager inappropriate names

Fired for 'verbally abusing' manager? Worker cries unfair dismissal amid health issues

In a recent unfair dismissal case, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) delved into the circumstances surrounding the termination of a sales team member who had been employed by a company for approximately two and a half years.

The worker argued that his dismissal was harsh, unjust, and unreasonable, while the employer maintained that they had valid reasons for the dismissal because he was “verbally abusive.”

The case unfolded against the backdrop of the worker's ongoing health issues and the company's concerns about the financial performance of the store where the worker was employed.

Heated discussion at work

In December 2023, the store manager had a discussion with the worker about his ability to continue working in a physically demanding role, given his health condition. The manager also expressed worries about the store's sales projections and the potential for layoffs.

The situation took a turn in January 2024 when the worker was observed lying down on the floor during work hours on two separate occasions. This incident prompted the employer to conduct a performance review meeting on 11 January 2024, during which the worker's alleged time-wasting and inappropriate behaviour were addressed.

The worker, however, believed that these issues were being used as an excuse to remove him from the business without having to make a redundancy payment.

Tensions reached a boiling point on 12 January 2024 when the worker approached the store manager and engaged in a heated discussion. During this exchange, the worker allegedly called the manager a "prick," a "lying prick," and a "bastard." He also criticised the manager by accusing him of "lying in front of God."

The confrontation ultimately led to the worker's dismissal, with the manager citing the worker's verbal abuse as the reason for the termination.

Worker’s defence

The worker argued that his dismissal was an unjustified attempt to avoid paying him a redundancy payment. He claimed that the possibility of his redundancy had been discussed in December 2023 and that the issues raised in the performance review meeting were baseless.

On the other hand, the employer refuted the worker's allegations regarding redundancy and asserted that the dismissal was based solely on the worker's conduct during the heated discussion on 12 January 2024.

The store manager provided a detailed account of the conversation, which was corroborated by contemporaneous notes made shortly after the incident and the testimony of a witness who had heard the worker refer to the manager as a "bastard" and a "lying prick" in a separate discussion on the same day.

The FWC carefully considered the evidence presented by both parties and evaluated the fairness of the dismissal based on the criteria outlined in section 387 of the Fair Work Act 2009.

While the FWC acknowledged that the worker was notified of the reason for his dismissal, it also noted that he was not given an opportunity to respond before the decision was made.

Is it unfair dismissal?

The FWC took into account the worker's length of service, his lack of previous performance issues, and the personal and financial hardship that the dismissal had caused him. As stated in the decision, "The length and quality of his employment record provides support for [the worker’s] contention that his dismissal was harsh."

Despite these factors, the FWC determined that the dismissal was not harsh, unjust, or unreasonable. The decision emphasised the severity of the worker's conduct, stating that:

"It is one thing to have a different recollection of a conversation or even to believe that somebody is being dishonest, but there was no good reason for [the worker] to launch a personal attack on [the store manager] by accusing him of 'lying in front of God'."

The decision highlighted the importance of maintaining appropriate conduct in the workplace, regardless of any underlying tensions or disagreements between employees and management.

Consequently, the FWC found that the employer had a valid reason for the dismissal, as evidenced by the worker's inappropriate behaviour and verbal abuse directed towards the store manager.

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