FWC: “Just Sack Me”… be careful what you ask for

Conflict in the workplace is not uncommon. The recent unfair dismissal appeal decision of Jacqueline Lumley v Bremick Pty Ltd Australia T/A Bremick Fasteners [2014] FWCFB 8278 by the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) serves as a useful example of how a workplace disagreement may be considered and justified.

This case covers the workplace conflict of two employees, Ms Lumley who worked in an office support role, and Ms Cook. In July 2013, Ms Lumley complained of workplace bullying by Ms Cook to her employer leading to further investigations. This complaint was concluded as unsupported.

Following this, the introduction of a ‘bullying management program’ was enforced by Mr Jamieson (Manager) outlining that in any event of conflict between Ms Lumley and Ms Cook, the issue is to be directly discussed with Mr Jamieson as opposed to confronting each other. Failure to comply with the new procedure would result in serious disciplinary action including dismissal.

Despite Mr Jamieson’s efforts to eradicate the workplace bullying, the conflict continued between the two employees, leading to Ms Lumley’s final written warning in September 2013. A meeting was held in February 2014 between Ms Lumley and Mr Jamieson; tension escalated to the point of Ms Lumley making various comments such as “sack me now.” Consequently, this meeting resulted in Ms Lumley’s dismissal.

Ms Lumley then brought an unfair dismissal claim to the FWC, which was initially refused stating her dismissal to be fair Ms Jacqueline Lumley v Bremick Pty Ltd Australia T/A Bremick Fasteners PR553108. Ms Lumley appealed the decision on the basis of how her unfair dismissal claim had been decided (ie. the dismissal was not directly linked to the conflict with Ms Cook). The FWC refused the appeal stating that Mr Jamieson realised that the conflict between the two employees was likely to continue and worsen over time and that Ms Lumley’s demanding statements such as “sack me now” were an indication of this fact. Mr Jamieson’s dismissal of Ms Lumley was a valid response to the situation.

An interesting point to note is that the FWC focussed on the dispute and its impact on the successfulness of the business as opposed to the dispute history between employees. This decision is an example that the dismissal of an employee can be a valid and supported response to workplace conflict situations whereby various tactics have been introduced to reduce workplace conflict but have failed with the tension continuing to be unresolved.

Cases cited in order of appearance:

[1] Jacqueline Lumley v Bremick Pty Ltd Australia T/A Bremick Fasteners [2014] FWCFB 8278

[2] Ms Jacqueline Lumley v Bremick Pty Ltd Australia T/A Bremick Fasteners PR553108

 

This article has been re-worded from the original by Madeline Cormack (QUT Law/ Business Student).

 

David Cormack – Brisbane Barrister and Mediator.

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