Termination of employment; digital communication is dangerous

The dismissal of an employee other than face to face in a physical meeting is very dangerous, as the passages from the following cases of the Fair Work Commission make clear.

“The employer notified the applicant of his summary dismissal by way of text message, and it did not provide any documentary confirmation of the notification of dismissal in the form of a termination of employment letter.”

Notification of dismissal should not be made by text message or other electronic communication. Unless there is some genuine apprehension of physical violence or geographical impediment, the message of dismissal should be conveyed face to face. To do otherwise is unnecessarily callous. Even in circumstances where text message or other electronic communications are ordinarily used, the advice of termination of employment is a matter of such significance that basic human dignity requires that dismissal be conveyed personally with arrangements for the presence of a support person and documentary confirmation.”

Later in the judgment he was even more emphatic in his criticism of the notification of termination by the employer:

‘The procedure that the employer adopted whereby it advised the applicant of his dismissal by way of text message, and which was for undisclosed reason, was plainly unjust, unreasonable, harsh, and, unconscionably undignified. The dismissal of the applicant with such perfunctory disregard for basic human dignity reflects very poorly upon the character of the individual or individuals responsible.”’

Kurt Wallace v AFS Security 24 7 Pty Ltd U2019/1622 delivered 28 June 2019 per Cambridge C

In another case delivered the day before Deputy President Sams observed:

“’The applicant was notified of his dismissal in a text message from Mr Vilches sent to him on 30 July 2018; see: [1] above. It is not the first time I have had cause to point out that informing an employee of their dismissal by phone, text or email is an inappropriate means of conveying a decision, which has such serious ramifications for an employee. I consider it would only be in rare circumstances that a decision to dismiss an employee should not be conveyed in person. For example, it may be necessary where the employer believes a dismissed employee might be a threat to the safety of his/her employees or because the employee expressly did not want a ‘face to face’ meeting to hear the outcome of any disciplinary process.’

Sams DP then quoted, with approval, the decision of Knutson v Chesson Pty Ltd t/a Pay Per Click [2018] FWC 2080, in which Commissioner Cambridge (once again) held:

“The employer provided notification of dismissal by email communication sent at 8.53pm on 6 November 2017. Notification of dismissal should not be made by email communication. Unless there is some genuine apprehension of physical violence or geographical impediment, the message of dismissal should be conveyed face to face. To do otherwise is unnecessary callous. Even in circumstances where email or electronic communications are ordinarily used, the advice of termination of employment is a matter of such significance that basic human dignity requires that dismissal be conveyed personally with arrangements for the presence of a support person and documentary confirmation.”

Van-Son Thai v Email Ventilation Pty Ltd U2018/9896 delivered 27 June 2019