Sacking: The Myths

Fair Work Australia (our national employment disputes tribunal) recently agreed that an employee who was sacked for posting aggressive anti-work rants on Facebook should stay sacked; and his employer acted reasonably in sacking him.
An employee of the Good Guys Townsville posted a status update from his home computer, outside of work hours, saying

“[He] wonders how the f**k work can be so f**king useless and mess up my pay again. C**ts are going down tomorrow.”

At work he was asked who he had been referring to. He admitted it was the store’s Operations Manager.
The store owner said the employee was sacked for calling his colleague a c**t on a public page, and also because it threatened the Operations Manager.
Fair Work Australia said the employee’s actions amounted to serious misconduct. The Good Guys employee handbook provides clear guidelines on the need to be courteous and polite to workmates and contains detailed policies on sexual harassment and workplace bullying.
The tribunal noted that even without the handbook, “common sense would dictate that one could not write and therefore publish insulting and threatening comments about another employee.”
Damien O’Keefe v Williams Muir’s Pty Ltd T/A Troy Williams The Good Guys [2011] FWA5311 (11 August 2011)
There are two key myths this case raises:
Myth One: Someone has to be offended for harassment or misconduct to have occurred.
The law recognises two forms of harassment:
  1. Things that might be offensive to some people eg. calling them a rude nickname or touching on the arm.
  •  These only becomes harassment if a person has been asked not to do it, and the behaviour continues.

2.   The things that are considered heinous by community standards eg. nudity, violent images, threatening a person, touching them on the bottom or genitals.

  • These are automatically considered harassment and if the employer becomes aware of them, should lead to disciplinary action (since an employer has an obligation under OHS law to ensure the workplace is free of these behaviours).
Myth Two: If it didn’t happen at work, it’s not work related.
The law recognises that if something happened between two people, who are connected by their workplace, then the employer has some responsibility for ensuring it is clear the behaviour is unacceptable, and if necessary the perpetrator is disciplined.
*Please note I am not a lawyer, nor am I qualified as one. I am however an Employee Relations professional whose job it is to understand and apply employment law, often in some odd situations such as the one above!

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