The recent Federal Court decision in Quinn v Overland
 FCA 799 highlights the increasing recognition placed by
courts on the importance of the non-pecuniary aspects of a
workplace to employees.
In this case, Ms Quinn sought an injunction to prevent her
employer from further suspending her from work, after already being
suspended for seven months during an investigation into allegations
Justice Bromberg found that the employer had failed to act in
accordance with statutory obligations under the Public
Administration Act 2004 (Vic) and failed to afford Ms Quinn
with procedural fairness in accordance with public sector
The question was then whether the balance of convenience
favoured the granting of the injunction.
Why non-pecuniary factors were relevant
Justice Bromberg identified two main issues to be considered in
determining Ms Quinn's application for interlocutory
whether there was a prima facie probability that at trial Ms
Quinn would be entitled to relief; and
whether the injury or inconvenience likely to be suffered by Ms
Quinn if the injunction were refused outweighed the injury the
employer would suffer if the injunction were granted.
Against the injunction, there was an ongoing investigation into
her actions at work, and if she were allowed back to work that
investigation could be compromised by her talking to certain other
staff members. Ms Quinn however gave undertakings she would not
communicate with them about the investigation.
There was also the question of her relationship with other
staff, but Justice Bromberg found that Ms Quinn would be able to
perform her functions adequately.
In Ms Quinn's favour were the benefits she gained from
working. Justice Bromberg was careful to highlight that the
workplace is not simply a place of economic sustenance:
"[There is] a growing
acceptance at common law of the right of an employee to perform
work. That recognition has arisen out of changed social
attitudes... Workplaces are a hub of important human exchanges
which are vital to the wellbeing of individual workers. Work
provides employees with purpose, dignity, pride, enjoyment, social
acceptance and many social connections... These non pecuniary
attributes of work are important and their denial can be
devastating to the legitimate interests of any worker, either
skilled or unskilled."
Justice Bromberg found that the denial of these non-pecuniary
attributes of employment was having a personally detrimental effect
on Ms Quinn. Any success at trial, or future award of damages,
would not be adequate compensation. He granted her application for
an injunction, with the effect of lifting her suspension and
allowing her to return to work.
Considering the weight given to the non-pecuniary aspects of
employment, employers should be careful when excluding employees
from the workplace. If a court finds that the exclusion of the
employee was on balance detrimental, it could, as in this instance,
order the employee to be reinstated.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Long experience representing many of Australia's leading employers has taught us that in employment litigation the identity of an employee's representative is a major factor in how employee litigation runs.
Australian employees receive certain entitlements (such as annual leave and superannuation) where contractors do not.
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