Fired by text message – FWA upholds employer’s dismissal

The decision by Fair Work Australia Commissioner Raffaelli on15 September, 2011 upholding the termination by an employer of an employee via a texted message has renewed interest in the way managers and staff should communicate matters between themselves.

While the decision centred around the issue of whether a painter failing to add an essential additive to a paint mixture (causing $74,000 damages) was guilty of misconduct, the bulk of interest in the case concerned the way the decision was communicated to the employee, who had proceeded onto annual leave and was about to fly overseas.

The employer argued he had already discussed the matter with the employee by phone and as the employee was on annual leave, it was not inappropriate to communicate his decision to terminate the employee by way of a text message. The employee argued he had not been given adequate opportunity to defend himself and it was inappropriate to terminate him by text message while he was on annual leave.

Commissioner Raffaelli found in favour of the employer, holding that while in most situations termination by text message is not appropriate, in this case the outcome for the employee would have probably been the same even if he was able to attend a face to face meeting with his manager. Accordingly, the employee’s dismissal was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

The latest decision of Fair Work Australia compares with an earlier case this year where Commissioner Cambridge found the dismissal of a salesperson by text message deprived her of any opportunity to respond to the allegations – this constituted a fundamental breach of the notions of procedural fairness, even for a small business.

Martin v DecoGlaze Pty Ltd (15 September, 2011 – U2011/8460)

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