Fair work laws; what is a valid reason for dismissal?

There are various statutory criteria (see for example sec 387, Fair Work Act 2009) which are taken into account when determining whether the dismissal of an employee is relevantly unfair to warrant a remedy but perhaps the most important is whether there is a valid reason for the dismissal. This is how that is tested.

“(b) Valid Reasons for the Dismissal

[61] To be a valid reason, the reason for the dismissal should be sound, defensible or well founded and should not be capricious, fanciful, spiteful or prejudiced. However, the Commission will not stand in the shoes of the employer and determine what the Commission would do in the same position.

[62] In Sydney Trains v Gary Hilder 6 (“Hilder”) the Full Bench summarised the well-established principles for determining such matters7:

“The principles applicable to the consideration required under s 387(a) are well established, but they require reiteration here:

(1) A valid reason is one which is sound, defensible and well-founded, and not capricious, fanciful, spiteful or prejudiced.

(2) When the reason for termination is based on the misconduct of the employee the Commission must, if it is in issue in the proceedings, determine whether the conduct occurred and what it involved.

(3) A reason would be valid because the conduct occurred and it justified termination. There would not be a valid reason for termination because the conduct did not occur or it did occur but did not justify termination (because, for example, it involved a trivial misdemeanour).

(4) For the purposes of s 387(a) it is not necessary to demonstrate misconduct sufficiently serious to justify summary dismissal on the part of the employee in order to demonstrate that there was a valid reason for the employee’s dismissal (although established misconduct of this nature would undoubtedly be sufficient to constitute a valid reason).

(5) Whether an employee’s conduct amounted to misconduct serious enough to give rise to the right to summary dismissal under the terms of the employee’s contract of employment is not relevant to the determination of whether there was a valid reason for dismissal pursuant to s 387(a).

(6) The existence of a valid reason to dismiss is not assessed by reference to a legal right to terminate a contract of employment.

(7) The criterion for a valid reason is not whether serious misconduct as defined in reg 1.07 has occurred, since reg 1.07 has no application to s 387(a).

(8) An assessment of the degree of seriousness of misconduct which is found to constitute a valid reason for dismissal for the purposes of s 387(a) will be a relevant matter under s 387(h). In that context the issue is whether dismissal was a proportionate response to the conduct in question.

(9) Matters raised in mitigation of misconduct which has been found to have occurred are not to be brought into account in relation to the specific consideration of valid reason under s 387(a) but rather under s 387(h) as part of the overall consideration of whether the dismissal is harsh, unjust or unreasonable.”

And see Pentiah v Sydney Trains (2022) FWC 2921 from which this extract is taken.; (2022) FWC 2921 delivered 28 December 2022 per Cross DP