Unfair dismissal criteria

When determining whether the termination of employment of an employee is relevantly unfair, the Fair Work Commission looks at whether there was a valid reason for the dismissal together with a number of “other matters”.

Here they are.

“Other relevant matters

[90] Section 387(h) of the Act provides the Commission with a broad scope to consider any other matters it considers relevant.

[91] The basis upon which a dismissal may be found to be harsh, unjust or unreasonable, notwithstanding a finding that there was a valid reason for dismissal based upon conduct in breach of employer policy was explained by the Full Bench majority in B, C and D v Australian Postal Corporation T/A Australia Post in the following terms: 29

“[41] Nevertheless, it remains a bedrock principle in unfair dismissal jurisprudence of the Commission that a dismissal may be “harsh, unjust or unreasonable” notwithstanding the existence of a “valid reason” for the dismissal”: Australian Meat Holdings Pty Ltd v McLauchlan (1998) 84 IR 1; J Boag & Son Brewing Pty Ltd v John Button [2010] FWAFB 4022; Windsor Smith v Liu [1998] Print Q3462; Caspanello v Telstra Corporation Limited [2002] AIRC 1171; King v Freshmore (Vic) Pty Ltd [2000] Print S4213; Dahlstrom v Wagstaff Cranbourne Pty Ltd [2000] Print T1001; Erskine v Chalmers Industries Pty Ltd [2001] PR902746 citing Allied Express Transport Pty Ltd (1998) 81 IR 410 at 413; Qantas Airways Limited v Cornwall (1998) 82 IR 102 at 109; ALH Group Pty Ltd T/A the Royal Exchange Hotel v Mulhall [2002] PR919205. That principle reflects the approach of the High Court in Victoria v Commonwealth and is a consequence of the reality that in any given case there may be “relevant matters” that do not bear upon whether there was a “valid reason” for the dismissal but do bear upon whether the dismissal was “harsh, unjust or unreasonable”.

[42] Broadly speaking, circumstances bearing upon whether a dismissal for misconduct is harsh, unjust or unreasonable fall into three broad categories:

(1) The acts or omissions that constitute the alleged misconduct on which the employer relied (together with the employee’s disciplinary history and any warnings, if relied upon by the employer at the time of dismissal) but otherwise considered in isolation from the broader context in which those acts or omissions occurred.

(2) The broader context in the workplace in which those acts or omissions occurred. [This may include such matters as a history of toleration or condonation of the misconduct by the employer or inconsistent treatment of other employees guilty of the same misconduct.]

(3) The personal or private circumstances of the employee that bear upon the substantive fairness of the dismissal. [This includes, matters such as length of service, the absence of any disciplinary history and the harshness of the consequences of dismissal for the employee and his or her dependents.]

[43] The determination of whether there was a “valid reason” proceeds by reference to the matters in category (1) and occurs before there is a consideration of what Northrop J described as “substantive fairness” from the perspective of the employee. Matters in categories (2) and (3) are then properly brought to account in the overall consideration of the whether the dismissal was “harsh, unjust or unreasonable” notwithstanding the existence of a “valid reason”.

[47] In Bostik (Australia) Pty Ltd v Gorgevski (No 1) (1992) 41 IR 452 Sheppard and Heerey JJ observed (at p 460):

“Employers can promulgate polices and give directions to employees as they see fit, but they cannot exclude the possibility that instant dismissal of an individual employee for non-compliance may, in the particular circumstances of an individual case, be harsh, unjust and unreasonable.”

[48] Thus, a finding that an employee has failed to comply with policies and procedures does not mean that a dismissal is not harsh, unjust or unreasonable. The Commission has consistently applied the proposition that instant dismissal of an employee for non-compliance with his or her employer’s policies may, in the particular circumstances of an individual case, be harsh, unjust and unreasonable: Kangan Batman TAFE v Hart [2005] PR958003, Ross VP, Kaufman SDP and Foggo C at para [51]; Fearnley v Tenix Defence Systems Pty Ltd [2000] Print S6238, Ross VP, Polites SDP and Smith C (Fearnley) at [61]); Atfield v Jupiters Ltd (2003) 124 IR 217 (Jupiters) at [12]-[13].”

Passages from Hall v Pacific National Pty Ltd (2022) FWC94 delivered 20 January 2022  Saunders DP