Why Employers Should Seek Professional Legal Advice Before Employee Termination
In a recent Federal Court case, a former senior employee of TechnologyOne has been awarded $5.2 million in damages (plus interest) under the general protections provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) as well as for a breach of contract with respect to incentive payments. The case, Roohizadegan v TechnologyOne Limited (No 2)  FCA 1407, highlights the importance of investigating employee complaints, seeking legal advice before termination and ensuring that caution is taken when terminating employees.
Facts of the Case
Mr Roohizadegan commenced proceedings against TechnologyOne and Mr Di Marco, alleging that he was summarily dismissed on 18 May 2016 due to complaints he had made about workplace bullying. It was noted that TechnologyOne had both an ‘Open Door Policy’ and ‘Workplace Bullying Policy’ that were included in the contract of employment, meaning that Mr Roohizadegan was able to make these complaints as he was exercising a ‘workplace right’. The Respondents contended that the Applicant’s employment was not terminated due to the complaints but rather due to competing allegations made by other employees. However, the company had failed to complete an internal investigation in relation to the allegations made against Mr Roohizadegan, as suggested by their HR department.
The court found that the ‘Open Door Policy’ and ‘Workplace Bullying Policy’ were included in the contract of employment and that the Applicant was exercising his workplace right. The Applicant was successful in proving he was terminated as a consequence of him exercising this workplace right. In other words, the Court decided that an adverse action was taken against him for exercising his workplace right in contravention of s 340 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).
Comments at trial
The Court made several comments in relation to Mr Di Marco’s actions and decisions. Justice Kerr noted that ‘he twice rejected professional HR advice that it would be unfair to dismiss Mr Roohizadegan on the basis of mere allegations’ and that ‘his choice was to stand with the bullies rather than the bullied’. Justice Kerr stated that ‘to achieve effective deterrence, CEOs in like positions need to know that such temptations as he faced are to be resisted and that there will be a not insubstantial price for failing to do so’ in his consideration of the penalties against TechnologyOne.
Implications of the Case
The case highlights the importance of conducting a proper investigation of internal complaints and the significance of ensuring that, when terminating employees, the correct procedure is followed to ensure employers do not contravene the law. Moreover, it serves as a reminder that employers should always seek and follow professional legal advice in relation to employee disputes and termination.
How can we assist?
If you need assistance in dealing with workplace conflicts or you are dealing with workplace bullying, please contact us on (02) 9963 9800 or via our contact page to speak to our employment law solicitor.