You’re making me angry! – FWC confirms dismissal of hot-headed employees

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has recently handed down two separate decisions confirming that angry and aggressive conduct in the workplace will provide an employer with a valid reason or reasonable grounds (as per the Small Business Dismissal Code) for terminating an employee’s employment.

WK v Advantage Communications & Data Pty Ltd T/A Advantage Communication & Data [2016] FWC 6937

The employee in this case was dismissed for his continued aggressive and rude conduct toward employees in a Telstra call centre. The employer was a telecommunications and information solutions business and the employee was regularly required to deal with the Telstra dealers call centre in the course of his duties.

The employee’s conduct towards the Telstra staff prompted a series of complaints from Telstra managers to the employer. The employer attempted to work with the employee to improve his conduct and address his work/life imbalance but in the course of doing so, discrepancies in the employee’s invoicing practices emerged. It was discovered that the employee had not been billing certain clients for products and $35,000.00 was owed to the employer. The employee then attended work on a weekend against the direction of his employer – allegedly to correct the invoicing issue.

The discovery of the invoicing issue, the refusal of the employer’s direction not to attend work on a weekend and yet another complaint from Telstra about a further angry outburst resulted in a “show cause” meeting with the employee. The meeting lasted for an hour and the employer discussed a range of issues with the employee. At the conclusion of the meeting, the employer made the decision to terminate the employee’s employment without notice.

The basis for the dismissal was the employee’s unacceptable conduct, his refusal to comply with a reasonable and lawful direction and the risks to the employer’s reputation and interests caused by the employee’s actions.

The FWC considered whether the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable in the circumstances and found that it was not. The employee’s conduct amounted to serious misconduct such as to justify immediate dismissal.

FWC said that the employer undertook reasonable investigations to reach its conclusion about the employee’s conduct, including the communications it had with Telstra and the meetings it had with the employee – in particular the long meeting immediately prior to the dismissal. The employer’s actions were therefore based on reasonable grounds and termination of the employee’s employment was not unfair.

DP v Roy Hill Operations Pty Ltd [2016] FWC 7648

In this case, an employee was dismissed following an aggressive outburst toward a registered nurse at the employer’s medical centre.

The outburst followed several previous interactions with the nurse during which the employee had insisted that he was suffering from asthma and the nurse suggested that his breathing difficulties were the result of anxiety, not asthma.

During the particular interaction that resulted in the employee’s dismissal he attended the employer’s medical centre for treatment by the nurse and behaved erratically, shouting accusations at the nurse such as “you don’t know what you are f—king doing,” “you’re dangerous and don’t know anything about asthma,” “you’re going to kill someone,” “you’re f—king stupid” and “you need to go and do some schooling.”

The employee’s conduct was reported to the human resources team who then conducted a formal investigation into the incident while the employee was stood down on full pay. The employee was subsequently invited to a number of meetings and was asked to show cause as to why his employment should not be terminated. The employer formed the view that the employee did not show any remorse for his aggressive, intimidating and insulting outbursts and his employment was subsequently terminated.

The employee attempted to argue that there was no valid reason for his dismissal because he was later diagnosed with asthma by his doctor and that he was justified in his frustration. He also claimed that the outburst was out of character and whilst his use of language was regrettable, the termination of his employment was an overreaction by the employer.

The FWC found that the employee’s rude and aggressive behaviour toward the nurse represented a valid reason for the termination of his employment and that his actions were fundamentally inconsistent with the employer’s code of conduct. The FWC did not accept that the dismissal was an overreaction to the employee’s conduct or that there were any procedural deficiencies in the way it was carried out. The FWC dismissed the employee’s unfair dismissal claim.  

Lessons for employers

These decisions show that whether an employee has a history of aggressive behaviour or an angry outburst is a one off incident, either can be a valid reason for terminating that employee’s employment.

Anger, aggression and intimidating behaviour in the workplace should not be tolerated by employers and swift action should be taken to address it for the safety and well-being of other employees, as well as maintaining the employer’s reputation. 

Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.

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