The Industrial Relations Commission of Western Australia recently made an award of $9,438.89 against an employer whom it found had unfairly dismissed an employee in a manner it described as "callous", causing the employee "distress beyond that of most dismissals" and resulting in the employee changing careers.
The employment relationship between a kennel operator and one of its employees began to deteriorate when the employer accused the employee of reporting mistreatment of animals by the kennel to the RSPCA. The employee in question strongly denied making any such complaint.
The employee subsequently sent a text message to the employer querying why deductions had been made to her pay. The employer replied that it had made the adjustments to "cover bathroom, food, drink and phone usage breaks".
Within two days of this text exchange, the employer dismissed the employee by telling her "it's time for you to go".
When the employee asked why she was being dismissed, she was told that she was costing the business income and the employer said:
"I don't like your attitude and you are hard to be around. You're a good worker and your work was fine but it's time for you to leave."
The employer then asked the employee to return her kennel key, locking the door immediately after the employee had left the premises.
The Commission also accepted evidence from the dismissed employee that the employer had threatened her by suggesting he would euthanise 60 dogs sheltered by the kennel and that he would undermine her reputation with future employers. The Commission also accepted evidence that the employer's actions had resulted in the employee deciding to retrain for a career in a different field.
Employer's conduct prior to hearing
The employer made written submissions to the Commission seeking an adjournment of the hearing which included the following passage:
"I had to give up a majority of my work to replace that bitch (the applicant) at the kennel with myself because she would no longer follow instruction, because she thought she knew better about everything now that she had veterinary nurse training under her belt."
The employer also responded to the employee's claims suggesting the reason for the dismissal was that the employee had neglected the welfare of the animals, falsified time records, damaged the business' profitability, refused to communicate with the employer and acted inappropriately towards her colleagues.
The Commission had little difficulty accepting the employee's evidence over that put forward by the employer in finding the dismissal of the employee unfair and that the actions towards the employee were "callous":
"both at the time of the dismissal, in locking the door after her, and after the dismissal, in respect of text messages concerning reports to the RSPCA, threats to euthanise 60 dogs and threats to tarnish reputation with future employers."
The Commission accepted that the employer's actions had caused the employee to suffer a significant degree of distress, evidenced by her decision to undergo retraining for a career in a different field.
The Commission ordered the employer pay the employee damages of $9,438.89.
While the employer's actions in this case demonstrated very little regard for the employee and its legal obligations, the decision nonetheless serves as a reminder that where an employer has concerns about an employee's performance or conduct, any such concerns should be raised with the employee and the employee given an opportunity to address the concerns prior to any decision being made that could impact the ongoing employment relationship.