When is a forced resignation a dismissal?

When will a forced resignation constitute a dismissal for the purposes of the Fair Work Act?

Here are the legal principles.

“Bupa’s case and other authorities

[42] As previously mentioned, Mr Gao maintained that he had been dismissed as described in s.386(1)(b) of the FW Act.

[43] In Bupa Aged Care Australia Pty Ltd t/a Bupa Aged Care Mosman v Tavassoli 2, a Full Bench of the Commission referred to a number of authorities dealing with “dismissal” under s 386(1). In relation to the operation of s.386(1)(b) the Full Bench held that,

“[34] It is apparent, as was observed in the decision of the Federal Circuit Court (Whelan J) in Wilkie v National Storage Operations Pty Ltd , that “The wording of s.386(1)(b) of the Act appears to reflect in statutory form the test developed by the Full Court of the then Industrial Relations Court of Australia in Mohazab v Dick Smith Electronics Pty Ltd (No. 1) and summarised by the Full Bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in O’Meara v Stanley Works Pty Ltd” (footnotes omitted). The body of pre-FW Act decisions concerning “forced” resignations, including the decisions to which we have earlier referred, has been applied to s.386(1)(b): Bruce v Fingal Glen Pty Ltd (in liq); Ryan v ISS Integrated Facility Services Pty Ltd; Parsons v Pope Nitschke Pty Ltd ATF Pope Nitschke Unit Trust.

….

[47] Having regard to the above authorities and the bifurcation in the definition of “dismissal” established in s.386(1) of the FW Act, we consider that the position under the FW Act may be summarised as follows:

….

(2) A resignation that is “forced” by conduct or a course of conduct on the part of the employer will be a dismissal within the second limb of the definition in s.386(1)(b). The test to be applied here is whether the employer engaged in the conduct with the intention of bringing the employment to an end or whether termination of the employment was the probably result of the employer’s conduct such that the employee had no effective or real choice but to resign. Unlike the situation in (1), the requisite employer conduct is the essential element.”

….

[49] We do not consider it is particularly helpful in applying s.386(1) to refer to the concept of “constructive dismissal” – an expression nowhere used in the FW Act. In saying this, we acknowledge that the expression has been used in a number of the authorities and also in the passage from the explanatory memorandum earlier quoted. However, as explained by Greg McCarry in his 1994 article “Constructive Dismissal of Employment in Australia”, the concept of “constructive dismissal” in UK law was not a development of the common law, but rather a description of a statutory extension to the ordinary meaning of dismissal to encompass a situation where “the employee terminates the contract, with or without notice, in circumstances such that he is entitled to terminate it without notice by reason of the employer’s conduct”. That is a much wider concept than just “forced” dismissal and is conducive of confusion, as McCarry warned:

“If the forced resignation is now to be regarded as a dismissal, at least under some statutes, then so be it. But it is not and should not be called a “constructive dismissal”, nor should that term come to be regarded as a separate concept in its own right, as may be happening. To regard “dismissal” as including constructive dismissal without the aid of a definition of extension is reading a lot into a statute by English and Australian standards of statutory interpretation, although as we shall see American courts have had no trouble doing just that. Moreover, unnecessary or loose use of the phrase “constructive dismissal” brings with it the inevitable, and erroneous, tendency to draw on English judicial pronouncements and examples which arise in the quite different situation adverted to earlier. Given the way the extended definition in England is to be interpreted, all kinds of breaches of contract and repudiatory conduct, as determined by the common law rules, can legitimately come within the statutory extension. There are good reasons for arguing that similar definitions should be inserted into our statutes, but at the moment they are not there. So care is needed that decisions on the English regime are not misunderstood or misapplied.”

[50] In the different statutory context of the NSW unfair dismissal scheme in the Industrial Relations Act 1991, a Full Bench of the Industrial Relations Commission similarly warned in Allison v Bega Valley Council, in relation to forced dismissal, that the term “constructive dismissal” could “deflect attention from the real inquiry … Did the employer behave in such a way so as to render the employer’s conduct the real and effective initiator of the termination of the contract of employment and was this so despite on the face of it the employee appears to have given his or her resignation?” In the current statutory context of s.386(1), the breadth of the concept of “constructive dismissal” may cause confusion and deflect attention away from whether a dismissal within the meaning of paragraph (a) or paragraph (b) is being considered. That occurred in this case.”

[44] I adopt the reasoning of the Full Bench. Consequently, it is necessary for me to focus on whether the Applicant was “forced to [resign] because of conduct, or a course of conduct, engaged in by [the Department]” rather than exploring notions of “constructive dismissal”.

[45] The onus is on the Applicant to establish that he was forced to resign: Banda v Mrs Australia Pty Ltd (t/a 7-Eleven). 3”

Gao v Department of Home Affairs  [2020] FWC 6842 delivered 16 December 2020 per Johns C