Worker left distressed after dog’s breakfast dismissal

The Commission found the employer engaged in ‘callous’ conduct

Worker left distressed after dog’s breakfast dismissal

In a recent decision, the Industrial Relations Commission of Western Australia considered a “callous” dismissal, which left a worker to suffer “distress beyond that of most dismissals” and undertake a career change. Ultimately, the Commission found that the worker’s dismissal was unfair and ordered that her employer pay almost $10,000.

Natasha Stephenson commenced employment as a kennel hand at Mageela Cottage & Boarding Kennel, owned by M.J. Edwards, in June 2018. In early February 2020, Stephenson noticed that she was underpaid during a week the previous month. She sent a text message to Edwards, to which he responded that he had deducted pay to account for “bathroom, food, drinks and phone usage breaks.”

Two days later, Edwards approached Stevenson during her shift and stated, “It’s time for you to go”. When she queried his statement, Edwards explained that he didn’t like her attitude and she was costing the business income. Following her dismissal, Edwards accused Stephenson of reporting the kennel to the RSPCA and threatened to euthanise all 60 dogs in his care.

The Hearing

Edwards submitted that he terminated Stephenson for several instances of serious misconduct, including “neglecting the care and welfare of animals”, “falsely claiming hours worked”, and “damaging the profitability and viability of the business”. Edwards also submitted that Stephenson had refused or failed to undertake particular tasks or treatments as she was instructed.

In contrast, Stephenson submitted that the alleged reasons for her dismissal were “baseless” and “an attempt by [Edwards] to justify his conduct after the fact”. She also denied making the alleged report to the RSPCA.

The Commission accepted Stephenson’s evidence that Edwards did not raise concerns about any mistreatment or neglect with her. “If an employer has concerns for an employee’s performance or conduct, these concerns ought to be raised with the employee and an opportunity to address the concerns ought to be provided to an employee,” the Commission said.

The Commission also described Edwards’ conduct, particularly with his threats to euthanise 60 dogs and tarnish Stephenson’s reputation with future employers, as “callous”. It stated that this caused Stephenson to suffer “distress beyond that of most dismissals”. Ultimately, the Commission found Stephenson’s dismissal to be unfair and ordered Edwards to pay her $9,438.89.

Key Takeaways

  • Employers must follow adequate procedures to ensure a fair and just dismissal
  • Employers must raise performance concerns with an employee, and provide an opportunity to respond, before terminating employment
  • Employers should refrain from making threats or coercions to ex-employees following the end of an employment relationship

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