The employer received numerous complaints from other employees regarding emails described as “weird” and “disturbing” by the employee. The employee agreed with the organisation’s relations manager to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. The organisation received an independent medical report which diagnosed the employee with paranoid schizophrenia and advised that he did not have a current capacity for work. The employee was terminated on the basis of the report and inappropriate conduct.
What the Commission held
The Commissioner found that the employee’s dismissal was unfair. Commissioner Ryan held that the psychiatric report was not sufficient to terminate the employee because the doctor had not stated that the employee was permanently incapacitated. He further stated that the organisation had ignored the expert evidence on the possibility of the employee returning to work at some stage and failed to explore these options.
In regards to the inappropriate emails, the Commissioner held this was an insufficient reason to terminate the employee because the conduct had occurred prior to the medical assessment and when the employee was unaware of his illness. It was also not serious enough to warrant dismissal.
It was ordered that the employee be reinstated provided that he produced medical evidence that he was fit to return to work.
Lessons to be learnt
The case shows that generally a basic capacity assessment will not be enough to validate a termination. It also serves a reminder that misconduct must be of such a nature as to amount to dismissal.
Making sound decisions
Employers need to make sure they obtain independent evidence and carefully assess situations involving employees that may be affected by mental illness. To ensure sound decisions are being made employers should:
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