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Unacceptable Employee Behaviour: Case Studies And Implications


In today’s workplaces, maintaining a professional and respectful environment is crucial for productivity, employee morale, and employee well-being. It can be difficult to completely eliminate unacceptable behaviour; however, having clear policies and acting quickly when it does surface can assist employers in handling such matters appropriately. Two recent rulings by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) underscore the varied nature of such behaviour and the importance of addressing it promptly and appropriately.

Case 1 – Aggressive and Bullying Conduct in a Landscaping Business

In one case, a gardener employed by Vivesco Pty Ltd was terminated without notice for a series of aggressive and bullying behaviours towards fellow employees. The series of incidents began in December 2023 where the gardener had a confrontation with a colleague accusing them of lying and proceed to insult them by calling him a “fat exploiter of foreigners”. This altercation was compounded by the gardener’s continued abusive and offensive behaviour between December 2023 and February 2024, including the sending of bizarre text messages, making threatening comments to fellow employees and aggressive outbursts.

Deputy President Colman (DP Colman) of the FWC ruled that the gardener’s overall actions and behaviour were of a serious nature, validating the employer’s decision for summary dismissal despite procedural shortcomings in notifying the employee and giving him a chance to respond. DP Colman emphasized that the nature and cumulative effect of the gardener’s behaviour, the including the initial “fat shaming” incident, subsequent aggressive acts, and the overall impact of employee welfare, justified the dismissal.

Case 2 – Disruptive Behaviour in a Hospitality Setting

In another case, a bar supervisor at the Dolphin Hotel was dismissed for creating a negative and combative environment through her conduct and communications on social media. Her behaviour included taking unauthorized breaks, closing the bar without approval, and consistently arriving late to shifts. Moreover, she criticized management in a staff group chat on Facebook, which led to further division and negativity among the staff.

Deputy President Bryce Cross (DP Cross) found that the supervisor’s actions, including her inappropriate use of social media to incite negative sentiments against management, provided a valid reason for dismissal. Despite her claims that the group chat was private and non-work-related, DP Cross determined that the chat was closely linked to workplace dynamics. The supervisor’s actions undermined the management’s authority and disrupted the workplace harmony, warranting her termination.

Implications and best practices

These two cases highlight several key points for employers to consider:

Clear and enforceable policies: It is advisable for all employers to establish and enforce clear policies regarding acceptable behaviour and communication, both in-person and online. This includes anti-bullying, anti-harassment, and appropriate social media use policies.

Prompt action: Addressing unacceptable behaviour promptly can prevent escalation and importantly protect the welfare of other employees. Delays in addressing issues, as seen in Case 1, the Vivesco case, can complicate the dismissal process and in the meantime undermine workplace morale.

Documentation and fair process: While immediate action is crucial, it is advisable for employers to ensure procedural fairness by documenting incidents and providing employees with opportunities to respond to allegations. Failure to follow due process can lead to claims of unfair dismissal, even if the misconduct is of a serious nature.

Supportive environment: Employees should feel supported and heard, particularly during challenging times. In Case two, the Dolphin Hotel case, it was found the supervisor’s performance issues were partly attributed to the emotional impact of a co-worker’s death. Employers should provide appropriate support and resources to help employees navigate personal challenges.

Key takeaways: Unacceptable employee behaviour can take many forms, from aggressive confrontations to inappropriate use of social media and communication forums. Employers are reminded to balance prompt action with procedural fairness to maintain a respectful and productive work environment. By doing so, they can safeguard employee well-being and uphold the integrity of the organisation.

Did you Know?

The Workplace Relation and Legal team can assist you with employee matters relating to performance and behaviour. The team can also assist you with unfair dismissal or general protection matters before the Fair Work Commission. If you need assistance in these areas, reach out to the team on 02 6175 5900.