A recent decision of the Federal Court has reinforced the importance of employers following HR advice, properly investigating and documenting employee complaints and not taking adverse action against employees for making such complaints.
Mr Benham Roohizadegan was summarily terminated by TechnologyOne Limited because he was allegedly unable to cooperate with his previous three managers, he had complaints made against him by his team and his team was under-performing.
Mr Roohizadegan filed a general protections claim against Technology One and the CEO, claiming he was dismissed for prohibited reasons including exercising a workplace right to make complaints in relation to this employment (i.e. complaints of bullying and harassment against seven other staff). Mr Roohizadegan submitted that as a result of his dismissal, he suffered a mental injury and was permanently incapable of ever working again.
The Federal Court found that the CEO twice rejected professional HR advice to conduct an investigation, and that Mr Roohizadegan’s complaints about being bullied by other staff were a substantial and operative reason for the CEO’s decision to terminate his employment.
In finding that TechnologyOne had breached the general protections provisions of the Act, the Federal Court awarded Mr Roohizadegan a sum totalling $5,228,410.00 for future economic loss, compensation for foregone share options, damages for breach of contract and general damages for pain and suffering. The Federal Court also ordered that Mr Roohizadegan be paid $7,000.00 personally from the CEO and $40,000.00 from TechnologyOne for their contraventions of the Act.
TechnologyOne has appealed the decision and Mr Roohizadegan has filed a cross-appeal.
The decision is a reminder for employers that:
- there is a reverse onus of proof in adverse action claims;
- adverse action compensation and damages are not capped under the Act;
- litigation can be costly and time-consuming (the proceedings took 4 years) and can have a severe impact on an employer’s reputation;
- all workplace complaints should be taken seriously and addressed in accordance with policies and procedures, and any negative action taken towards an employee must be clearly disconnected from any complaints they may have made;
- all complaints and processes should be properly documented;
- procedural fairness should be afforded before a decision to take action is made; and
- HR/legal advice should be obtained before action is taken.
The decision at first instance can be read here.
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