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Employer found responsible for toxic workplace culture, not workers

A worker may not be accountable for bullying colleagues if management fails to control the ‘toxic’ culture of the workplace.

In Rojas v Beacon Products Pty Ltd (2018), an Administration Assistant who was dismissed for bullying filed an unfair dismissal claim against her employer.

Various complaints were raised by her manager about her behaviour in the workplace. This included ignoring and shouting at her manager in front of colleagues, and openly discussing her dislike of her manager with colleagues.

An investigation was conducted in which the director spoke to various employees, excluding the dismissed worker. He determined the complaints were substantiated before meeting with her.

The director directed her to treat her colleagues politely, professionally and with respect. Two days later, she was issued a written warning about her behaviour and was asked to move desks. She reluctantly agreed.

A few weeks later, she was summarily dismissed for serious misconduct on the basis that her behaviour placed colleagues at risk. She did not receive payment in lieu of her four weeks’ notice, nor for her pro rata long service leave.

The worker lodged an unfair dismissal claim seeking compensation, payment of outstanding entitlements and a written apology.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) held that the worker was unfairly dismissed. There was no valid reason because no specific behaviour was identified. Further, she was provided with no opportunity to respond. She received no information or warning about any allegations and was not made aware of the investigation.

The worker was awarded compensation for four weeks of pay. The FWC strongly advised the employer to also pay the worker her outstanding notice and pro rata leave entitlements to avoid further litigation.

This case demonstrates the importance of having relevant training, policies and procedures in place to avoid seemingly small issues from escalating. The employer was found to have had a toxic environment full of inter-relationship issues.

Management failed to recognise and address these issues before they escalated, which is owing to the lack of relevant training, policies or procedures. When an investigation into bullying is necessary, it is important to ensure you adopt a process that is fair for everyone.

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