Australia: Employer justified in dismissing employee for offensive and damaging email

Last Updated: 5 May 2017
Article by Tim Greenall

Thoughtless actions may impact negatively on a company's reputation and breach a Code of Conduct.

In brief: At times, apologies and remorse can be considered too little, too late. When an employee's thoughtless actions go so far as to impact negatively a company's reputation and breach a Code of Conduct, then dismissal may be deemed fair and reasonable.

In a recent case where an employee sent an offensive and damaging email about the employer's clients, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has ruled in favour of the employer and affirmed the employer's decisions to terminate the employee's employment. This case serves as a solid reminder to employers to have stringent email and IT policies, and make employees aware of the standards of conduct that are expected of them.

What you need to know:

  • In considering whether a dismissal is unfair, the FWC must take into consideration a variety of factors, including whether there was a valid reason for an employee's dismissal which relates to the employee's capacity or conduct and ensure that "a fair go all round is accorded to both the employer and employee concerned".
  • In this casei, the dismissal was held to be fair even though the employee was long serving and not subject to any prior formal warning.


In the case of Georgia Sologinkin v Cosmetic Suppliers Pty Ltd t/as Coty [2017] FWC1838, the employee was a Key Account Manager who had been employed for 16 years and worked her way up from being a junior Sales Representative to Team Leader and later, State Sales Manager.

In August 2015, the employee had been placed on an informal performance improvement plan due to failure to meet KPI's in relation to sales and poor time management. However, by the end of 2015, the employee's performance had improved and she was no longer on an informal performance improvement plan.

On the morning of 9 November 2016 the employee sent an intemperate and inappropriate email to her employer's customer services team berating them as "totally incompetent". On the same day, the employee composed an email to a friend who had commenced working as a contractor to the employer. In this email, the employee made a number of disparaging – and, in at least one instance, highly offensive – comments about some of the employer's clients that her friend would be dealing with. The email included the email addresses of the clients. By accident, the email was sent not only to the friend, but also to the clients about whom the comments had been made!

Process for termination

On 10 November 2016, the employee was informed that she was temporarily suspended and not to contact any clients pending a disciplinary meeting the following Monday, 14 November 2016. The letter indicated that sending the email to the clients was highly inappropriate, constituted a breach of the Code of Conduct and could amount to serious misconduct warranting, a warning or the termination of her employment. The employee was to be given an opportunity to provide any explanations or additional information and was invited to bring a support person to the meeting.

That day, the employee advised that she was on work-related stress/sick leave and that she would be unable to attend the meeting. She had a medical certificate that she was unfit for work until the end of the week.

The employer responded by stating that given the very serious nature of the incident and its impact on the employer's reputation – the matter needed to be resolved as soon as possible and the employee was requested to provide a written response by the end of the following day.

The employee provided a detailed response confirming that the incident was not intentional and acknowledged that it was deeply embarrassing and had been a terrible mistake.

Termination of employment

The employee's managers considered the employee's explanation and terminated her employment with notice by making a payment in lieu of notice. They took into account:

  • the inappropriate comments made in the email which were in breach of the Code of Conduct;
  • that confidential information about clients was conveyed to other clients and damaged the employer's business and reputation;
  • the employee's explanation and her expression of regret, and the fact that she had inadvertently copied the clients into the email.


The FWC held that the employer was justified in terminating the employee's employment on the ground that the employment relationship was so damaged that the employer could no longer maintain trust and confidence in the employee.

The email contained a number of derogatory and offensive comments about the employer's clients. Even if these had not been sent to the clients themselves, these comments would have been entirely inappropriate, especially from someone in the employee's position, whose job it was to manage relations with key customers. The comments were also in breach of the Code of Conduct and the IT User Conduct Policy, which specifically prohibited users of the email system from including statements in an email that would be embarrassing to either the user and/or the receiver if they were disclosed to the public.

The FWC accepted that the email was sent to clients by mistake. However, whatever the explanation as to how that happened, the ultimate responsibility must be borne by the employee. The email not only had the potential to, but clearly did in fact, damage the employer's reputation and its relations with its clients.

The FWC was also satisfied that the employee was given an opportunity to respond to the reasons for her termination even though the planned meeting did not proceed, and the employee was not subject to any prior warning and had apologised for her behaviour.


Whilst each case will turn on its facts, the decision is significant for the fact that one significant issue of misconduct may be sufficient to justify termination even where the employee is remorseful and not subject to any other form of performance warning.

It is also noteworthy that the employer was able to effect a reasonable process in the dismissal, even though the employee was absent on sick leave and did not attend the scheduled disciplinary meeting in person.


iGeorgia Sologinkin v Cosmetic Suppliers Pty Ltd t/as Coty [2017] FWC1838

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. Madgwicks is a member of Meritas, one of the world's largest law firm alliances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.