Manager fired for 'negatively chatting' about colleagues on Microsoft Teams

Commission decides whether there was unfair dismissal or not

Manager fired for 'negatively chatting' about colleagues on Microsoft Teams

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) recently dealt with a dismissal claim from a manager who said he was fired after his employer’s management saw “negative” messages that he sent on Microsoft Teams. Meanwhile, the company said he resigned on his own.

Maxeem Georges started working for MCoBeauty Pty Ltd on 22 November 2021 as its finance and technology manager.

On 22 March 2023, he was formally issued a written warning due to "inappropriate comments" he had made about the employer's head of supply chain and logistics during Microsoft Teams conversations with a colleague.

After receiving the written warning, Georges filed for stress leave, a workers' compensation claim, and eventually resigned on 5 June without resuming his work duties.

Georges has expressed various concerns and grievances regarding his employment and the behaviour of other managers within the organization. However, he did not reportedly forward these concerns through formal channels within the company.

Instead, he retained the services of an employment law specialist solicitor, who, on a without-prejudice basis, corresponded with MCoBeauty's solicitor.

On 1 June 2023, MCoBeauty's solicitor issued an open letter to Georges' legal representative, encouraging Georges to follow the formal complaints procedure.

Georges chose not to follow this advice, opting to resign from his employment instead. He conveyed his resignation via a letter addressed to the CEO, dated 6 June 2023, which contained strongly critical remarks about MCoBeauty's personnel.

Subsequently, on 12 June 2023, he filed an application with the Fair Work Commission, saying he was subjected to dismissal from his position and that this dismissal violated the general protection provisions of the Act.

On the other hand, MCoBeauty argued that Georges voluntarily resigned from his employment and was never subjected to dismissal.

The inappropriate messages about co-workers on Microsoft Teams

According to records, the FWC found that Georges “was unhappy with the treatment he said he received from other managers.”

He said MCoBeauty “applied double standards and acted unethically and that he suffered discrimination, inappropriate comments and the like. During his employment, Georges raised concerns informally about some of these matters but did not ever make a formal complaint.”

On 21 March, the head of supply chain and logistics, “Ms. Smith,” saw inappropriate comments about herself on an open computer screen of another employee.

The comments were in a Microsoft Teams chat between Georges and a colleague. The comments were to the effect that Smith “should be sacked, was annoying and was micromanaging, and other negative comments about other managers.”

She made a formal complaint, and it was investigated. Later that day, Georges was called to a meeting with his direct manager, the head of finance, and the people and culture manager.

The latter said the intention of the meeting was to warn Georges and his colleague about their behaviour. His direct manager, and the people and culture manager said that Georges’ response at the meeting was “problematic.”

They said he was “extremely loud, shouting and leaning forwards in his chair in a way which was overpowering.” Straight after the meeting, Georges left the premises. The next day, he received a written warning about the inappropriate Teams messages, his conduct at the meeting, and leaving work following the meeting without discussion with his manager.

Was there unfair dismissal?

In its decision, the FWC investigated other allegations and looked into the inappropriate messages on Microsoft Teams as a valid basis for dismissal.

“McoBeauty’s decision to view Georges’ Microsoft Teams chat was not conducted by the employer with the intention of bringing the employment to an end or conduct that left Georges with no effective or real choice but to resign. McoBeauty received a complaint from Smith and accessed the Teams chat to investigate that complaint – not to bring about the end of [his] employment,” the Commission said.

It said it did not find “the employer engaged in any conduct with the intention of forcing Georges to resign, nor any conduct that left [him] with no reasonable option but to resign.”

“The immediate and obvious option available to Georges was to remain in employment, in his case on weekly workers compensation benefits, and to make a formal complaint as encouraged by MCoBeauty. For his own reasons, Georges decided to resign and litigate instead,” it added.

Thus, the FWC said he was not dismissed and rejected his application.

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