Dismissal unfair, emails “like a fight between two young children”

A small business operator didn’t have the ability to dismiss an employee for backchat because his own tone was so poor.

The small business owned two Muzz Buzz franchises and was facing a claim for unfair dismissal from one of its employees.

The exchanges over email concerned rostering. Fair to say there was a disagreement in who should be rostered on certain days. Here’s some of the exchanges, taken from the Fair Work Commission’s decision:

You will do it the way I told you to do it or you wont do it at all!!! Please don’t forget where your place is!

Employer

That’s not fair to say to remember where my place is because if you wanted a manger because you wanted to not have to worry about all of this then you need to step back. Your main concern is the money and mine is the customers and what’s best for the shop and that’s what I'm trying to do and when it suits you you tell me it’s your shop and your decisions and when it’s something you don’t really care about you tell me it’s my shop to do what I want. If you want someone who does whatever you tell them and is just there to do what you want then you definitely picked the wrong person. Sorry for thinking you wanted to step back and let this shop succeed.

Employee

Put Larissa on one shift a week as I told you and don’t step on what I say if you want things to run smooth...

Employer, after saying that it is his business to run as he sees fit

She can go on a Wednesday with lucy. She’s not going on Saturday.

Employee

The employee eventually wrote the roster as directed. Later, a complaint came through. It was about Larissa and the Saturday shift.

I saw this coming :) Please have a chat with Emma and Larissa...

Employer

Complete with the passive aggressive emoticon, but perhaps without irony.

On an another occasion, after a non-specific reprimand:

No point to write me a novel text message ... I am waiting for a 'Yes Sir' message ... That would be enough

Employer

The Fair Work Commission took a dim view of the employer’s tone. The FWC considered “there was a level of insubordination displayed by the (employee) in her dealing with (the employer)”. For that matter:

The emails read more like a fight between two young children than exchanges between a business owner and one of his senior employees. Neither of the (employee) nor (the employer) addressed the other in a way that suggested maturity or an understanding of the basis of a sound working relationship.

Fair Work Commission

In normal circumstances, if an employee addressed their manager in such a way it might be found to provide valid grounds for disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal. I find, however, in this case that (the employer) did nothing to encourage cooperation from the (employee) but did encourage the responses he received by the tone of his communication with her. (The employer) sets the tone for communication with his staff and he cannot be surprised when this was reflected back to him.

Fair Work Commission

Take aways

(That’s not meant to be a pun relating to Muzz Buzz seling take away coffees)

I find it difficult to feel sorry for the employer. This unfair dismissal claim is probably the least of its worries, given the way it treats its employees.

Employers need to lead by example. If an employer wants to demand a level of civility and conduct from its staff, that needs to start with the highest people (owners and directors) and filter down through all employees. That’s for two reasons.

The first reason is obvious: a proper and respectful relationship with your employees.

The second reason: an employer can’t dismiss on grounds of insubordination and back chat if that kind of conduct starts at the top.

Further reading: Munckton v Laser Bean Pty Ltd

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