Unfair dismissal; valid reason and lawful instructions

As a general principle, employers have the right to expect employees to comply with the employer’s lawful and reasonable instructions. Ordinarily an employee who fails to so do runs the risk of a termination of employment for failing to do so being upheld by the Fair Work Commission. A material failure by an employee to comply with a lawful and reasonable instruction will be regarded as a valid reason for dismissal, although the persona circumstances of the employee may or may not save the employee’s job.

“The right of an employer to direct their employee is implied at common law, stemming from the ability of an employer to exert control over their employees.  4 Employees have a duty of obedience which requires an employee to comply with any lawful and reasonable direction given by a superior.5 A breach of this implied duty may constitute a breach of contract, and in turn, misconduct, which may provide the basis of a valid reason for dismissal. To be lawful, a direction does not require a positive statement of law endorsing the action. Rather, a direction can be classified as lawful provided it does not involve illegality and “falls reasonably within the scope of service of the employee.”6

The question of what is reasonable is a “question of fact and balance”.  7 The fact that a “better” direction may have existed does not make a particular request unreasonable. Rather, what constitutes a reasonable request must be assessed in light of all the circumstances of the employment relationship. 8”

Richardson v Aaction Traffic Pty Ltd (2021) FWC 2650 delivered 11 May 2021 per Lake DP