The Fair Work Commission has taken into consideration the current work environment of COVID-19 in determining whether a dismissal was unfair.
A Sales Executive was dismissed in April this year for allegedly failing to provide weekly sales reports, customer complaints, poor attitude and “demonstrated lack of respect” for management.
The FWC found that a number of errors in the employee’s conduct warranted a warning, but not summary dismissal. Deputy President Anderson found that the employer had failed to take into account the employee’s “natural anxieties about COVID-19 (mixing with clients in public places) and all that COVID-19 could mean for her job security”. Furthermore, the employee’s days and wages had been cut by 20% due to economic effects on the business, yet her work expectations and workload had been increased during the pandemic. The Deputy President found that the employer, in requiring competing and conflicting obligations of the employee, should not have objectively assessed her performance against standard performance criteria during such a difficult time, stating: “when COVID-19 hit, the combination of reduced hours to do the job, demotivation arising from reduced hours and pay and an additional reporting obligation combined to create a set of circumstances in which an objective assessment of performance was fraught”.
The decision highlights the challenges associated with managing remote workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and demonstrates that employers must take a “big picture” approach and adapt disciplinary and termination processes to the current climate.
The decision can be read here.
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