The Fair Work Commission in King v D.C Lee & L.J
Lyons  FWC 1664, has found that a law firm was harsh and
unjust when it summarily dismissed an associate who had been
required to attend the District Court for a hearing in relation to
her ex-partner's act of domestic violence against
The applicant started work with the firm on 15 December 2014. On
19 December 2014 she was the victim of domestic violence
perpetrated by her ex-partner. On 23 December 2014 she advised the
HR manager for the firm, and a special counsel to whom the
applicant reported, of the domestic violence incident. The
applicant never personally advised the principals of the firm of
the domestic violence incident.
In April 2015 the applicant was dealing with a property dispute
with her former partner in addition to the domestic violence
charges. During this time her employer addressed concerns with her
regarding her time keeping and attendance in the office.
The applicant was required to attend the final court hearing for
the domestic violence incident on 23 September 2015. She advised
the special counsel and HR manager that she would be at the Court
on the morning of 23 September. However, on the afternoon before
the hearing, the applicant was advised the matter would not be
heard until the middle of the day. Another colleague asked her to
deal with a brief matter in the Supreme Court on the morning of 23
September 2015, which she agreed to do. As a result, she was out of
the office for most of the morning of 23 September and did not
return by the time she had previously advised she would be back in
When she returned to the office she was summoned to the
boardroom, where the principals and the HR manager were waiting.
One of the principals then informed her that he and the other
principal had decided to terminate her employment, effective
The following day the applicant sent an email to the principals
setting out in detail the events of 22 and 23 September 2015. She
urged the principals to reconsider, but they did not change their
The firm initially contended that the applicant had breached her
duty to the firm by not being in her office and failing to devote
'the whole of her time and attention to her employer's
business' and claimed her conduct was 'wilfully
disobedient', amounting to serious misconduct that warranted
summary dismissal. However, during the hearing, the principals
acknowledged that there was 'a regrettable lack of procedural
fairness' afforded to the applicant and that she was not given
an opportunity to respond to the allegations. The principals also
acknowledged the way they dealt with the applicant was an
'unfair way to treat an employee'.
The Commission found the firm's lack of HR expertise in the
area of domestic violence might have affected the dismissal
process, even though an HR manager was available to consult on the
Despite the Commission finding that the applicant breached her
obligations to the firm when she failed to tell the principals she
would not be returning to the office until late in the afternoon of
23 September, the Commission found that dismissing her was harsh
and disproportionate to the gravity of her misconduct and awarded
the employee $11,064.28.
This case is a further reminder of the importance of procedural
fairness and demonstrates that employers should be aware of the
effect that domestic violence has on the workplace.
Winner – EOWA Employer of Choice for Women Citation 2009,
2010, 2011 and 2012
Winner – ALB Gold Employer of Choice 2011 and 2012
Finalist – ALB Australasian Law Awards 2008, 2010, 2011 and
2012 (Best Brisbane Firm)
Winner – BRW Client Choice Awards 2009 and 2010 - Best
Australian Law Firm (revenue less than $50m)
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An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
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