Worker fired over 'meddling' with co-worker's tasks

Was it unfair dismissal if employee exceeds their duties?

Worker fired over 'meddling' with co-worker's tasks

A worker recently challenged her employer’s decision to terminate her employment after the latter found her “overstepping” boundaries as she repeatedly ignored processes and designated workplace roles.

A small business based in Fairy Meadow, New South Wales, employed the worker for its senior administration and reception. The employer operates a rugby-based occupational therapy business for children with disabilities.

The worker’s journey with the employer began in March 2021 when she was offered the position, having become friends with the employer’s family.

According to the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) records, she was known for her dedication, working four days a week, often with additional hours and remote work.

She was initially responsible for a broad range of tasks, including accounts, clinic administration, reception duties, waitlists, appointment scheduling, and client service agreements (CSA).  Her role shifted around January 2022, and another employee assumed some responsibilities, further lessening her duties.

Tensions arose when the worker was asked to step back from assisting a colleague, which she found challenging due to the "inconsistencies" she noticed in her colleague’s work. A warning was issued, emphasising the need to "stay within her lane."

Despite no performance concerns in her January 2023 report, the worker raised workload concerns and a job role review request with the employer. This led to a meeting outlining the worker’s role, where her job was defined as managing accounts and the employer’s sign-ups.

Conflict arose when the worker questioned her co-worker’s approach to an invoicing issue in March 2023, with certain email exchanges and discussions about task division being discussed.

These conversations led to strained relations, and a subsequent warning was issued to the worker for not adhering to set processes and following up on tasks not within her job scope.

Further misunderstandings regarding the handling of some bookings and client communications caused further strain between the worker and her colleague, prompting another warning and concerns about the worker’s engagement with the employer’s established processes.

On 29 June 2023, the employer decided to terminate her employment. The reason cited was her continuous disregard for its processes and procedures and concerns about her conduct toward other staff members.

Shortly after, she received her termination letter and outstanding wages.

A worker who ‘oversteps boundaries’ should be properly informed of consequences

In its decision, the FWC said that the worker’s conduct “in repeatedly failing to do as she had been asked and overstepping the boundaries that had been set for her was a valid reason for the dismissal.”

“This included entering a clinical session after having been told directly that this was not acceptable, and continually checking [her colleague’s] work after it was made clear that this was not appropriate and not her responsibility.”

However, the Commission found that the worker “had no malicious intent.”

“She genuinely thought she was acting in the best interests of the business. But it was not [her] role or responsibility to decide for herself what was best for the business in terms of the work that she performed, particularly where her decisions conflicted with instructions she had been given.”

Despite this, the FWC said that the employer’s deficient process made her dismissal unreasonable.

“The difficulty for [the employer] is that while it gave [her] a warning about her conduct in relation to “not completing set processes as required, despite many conversations about how the role was split”, it never told her that she was at risk of being dismissed if there was no improvement in her conduct.”

“The closest the business came was telling [the worker] that her failure to follow instructions would lead to ‘performance management,’ was ‘serious’ and could have ‘serious consequences.’ This was not sufficient because it did not raise the prospect of dismissal directly.”

Thus, the Commission said that “while there was a valid reason for dismissal and adequate opportunity for [her] to respond to [the employer’s] concerns, the process followed in relation to the dismissal was deficient, and there was a failure to comply with the Fair Work Act.”

Ultimately, “the dismissal was unreasonable,” the FWC said.

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