Unfair dismissal and differential treatment


The differential treatment of employees in an employment setting may be a relevant factor in an unfair dismissal case

“ In Darvell v Australian Postal Corporation,49 the Full Bench made the following comments in relation to the question of differential treatment between employees (references omitted):50

“[21] The issue of differential treatment of employees in respect of termination of employment was considered by Vice President Lawler in Sexton v Pacific National (ACT) Pty Ltd. In Sexton’s case, his Honour said:

“[33] It is settled that the differential treatment of comparable cases can be a relevant matter under s.170CG(3)(e) to consider in determining whether a termination has been harsh, unjust or unreasonable …

[36] In my opinion the Commission should approach with caution claims of differential treatment in other cases advanced as a basis for supporting a finding that a termination was harsh, unjust or unreasonable within the meaning of s.170CE(1) or in determining whether there has been a ‘fair go all round’ within the meaning of s.170CA(2). In particular, it is important that the Commission be satisfied that cases which are advanced as comparable cases in which there was no termination are in truth properly comparable: the Commission must ensure that it is comparing ‘apples with apples’. There must be sufficient evidence of the circumstances of the allegedly comparable cases to enable a proper comparison to be made.”

[22] Section 170CG(3)(e) of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (Cth) was relevantly similar to s.387(h) of the FW Act.

[23] Similarly, in Daly v Bendigo Health Care Group, Senior Deputy President Kaufman said:

“[62] I am troubled by the apparent disparity in the treatment of Mrs Daly and the other nurses concerned. However, on balance I have concluded that this factor does not render the otherwise justified termination of her employment into one which is harsh, unjust or unreasonable. There was no evidence led as to why the other three nurses were treated differently to Mrs Daly. The fact that none of them was sacked does not of itself render the treatment of Mrs Daly unjust. Although differential treatment of employees can render a termination of employment, harsh, unjust or unreasonable, that is not necessarily the case. I agree with Lawler VP’s observation in Sexton that ‘there must be sufficient evidence of the circumstances of the allegedly comparable cases to enable a proper comparison to be made.’ There is not, in this case, sufficient evidence to enable a proper comparison to be made. Having regard to Mrs Daly’s years of experience, her direct involvement with the patient to a greater extent than that of the other nurses and her refusal to acknowledge that she had acted inappropriately, I am not prepared to find that because the employment of the other nurses involved was not terminated, Mrs Daly’s termination of employment was harsh, unjust or unreasonable.”[Footnotes omitted]

[24] We respectfully concur with their Honours.”

Extract from Weston v Coal & Allied Mining Services Pty Limited  (2023) FWC 93 delivered 13 January 2023 per Saunders DP