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Unfair Dismissal Cases and Eligibility

Reading time: 9 mins

Unfair dismissal cases continuously shape and redefine our understanding of what constitutes ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’ in the termination of employment. Unfair dismissal eligibility is a critical aspect of employment law that protects employees from unjust termination.

Written by an experience employment lawyer, this article delves into three significant cases of unfair dismissal. Each case provides distinct insights into unfair dismissal case law and eligibility.

FACTS: Irene Meadley was employed by Sort Worx Pty Ltd (formerly Gippsland Waste) as a weighbridge operator and unload monitor. She was dismissed by the company on 24 July 2012. She applied to the Fair Work Commission for an unfair dismissal remedy.

The Commission found that her dismissal was unfair and ordered her reinstatement and compensation. The company appealed the decision but later discontinued the appeal. The company failed to comply with the Commission’s orders and Ms Meadley applied to the Federal Court for enforcement and penalty.

ISSUE: Whether the company contravened the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) by failing to comply with the Commission’s orders and whether the Court should grant any relief or penalty to Ms Meadley.

RULING: The Court rejected the company’s arguments that the Commission’s orders were invalid or frustrated. The Court found that the company deliberately and seriously breached the civil remedy provision of the Act by ignoring the Commission’s orders.

The Court ordered the company to pay Ms Meadley the amounts she was entitled to under the orders, including wages, superannuation, notice, redundancy and annual leave. The Court also imposed a penalty of $10,000 on the company, payable to Ms Meadley, and stayed the operation of the penalty for three months. The Court did not award costs to Ms Meadley.

FACTS: Mr Singh was employed as a cook by Indian Food Catering Pty Ltd (the first respondent), a company controlled by Mr Gummi (the second respondent). His employment was terminated by the second respondent on behalf of the first respondent on 27 March 2018.

Mr Singh lodged an application for an unfair dismissal remedy with the Fair Work Commission (FWC), which found that his termination was harsh, unjust or unreasonable and ordered the first respondent to pay him $18,000 in compensation in six instalments. The first respondent failed to comply with the FWC order and only paid $7,000 to Mr Singh.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (the applicant) brought proceedings against the respondents for contravening section 405 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act), which prohibits contravening a term of an FWC order.

ISSUE: Whether the respondents contravened section 405 of the FW Act and, if so, what penalty and costs should be imposed on them.

RULING: The respondents admitted to contravening section 405 of the FW Act and agreed to pay the outstanding balance of $5,008 to the applicant, who would then pay Mr Singh. The court declared that the first respondent contravened section 405 of the FW Act and imposed a penalty of $5,000 on it, payable to the Commonwealth. The court also ordered the respondents to pay interest on the outstanding balance and the penalty.

The court did not impose any penalty on the second respondent, taking into account his financial difficulties and contrition. The court also did not make any order for costs, as it was not satisfied that the applicant incurred costs due to the unreasonable act or omission of the respondents.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a fair and an unfair dismissal?

A fair dismissal is one where there is a valid reason for termination, and the dismissal follows a fair and reasonable process. On the other hand, an unfair dismissal is one where the termination is unjust or unreasonable, often due to a lack of a valid reason or a failure to follow due process. Unfair dismissal cases are determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the unique circumstances of each case.

To be eligible to make an unfair dismissal claim in Australia, an employee must have been employed for at least 6 months (or 12 months for small businesses) and have been covered by the Fair Work Act 2009. Additionally, they must have been dismissed by their employer and not have resigned or been made redundant. There are also other factors that may impact eligibility, such as the high income threshold and employment status.

The main factors that influence unfair dismissal eligibility include the length of employment, coverage under the Fair Work Act, the reason for dismissal, and the procedures followed in the dismissal process. Other factors, such as the high income threshold and employment status, may also impact eligibility.

Yes, an employee can be dismissed for a valid reason and still have an unfair dismissal claim. This may occur if the employer fails to follow proper procedures in the dismissal process, such as not providing the employee with an opportunity to respond to the allegations against them. In such cases, the dismissal may be deemed unfair due to a lack of procedural fairness.

Due process refers to the fair and reasonable procedures that should be followed in the dismissal process. This includes providing the employee with an opportunity to respond to the allegations against them, conducting a thorough investigation, and giving the employee a chance to improve their performance before making a decision to terminate their employment. Failure to follow due process can result in a dismissal being deemed unfair.

Some common defences used by employers in unfair dismissal cases include demonstrating a valid reason for dismissal, proving that the dismissal was not harsh, unjust, or unreasonable, and showing that the employee was not eligible to make an unfair dismissal claim. Employers may also argue that the dismissal was a result of the employee’s performance or conduct, or that the dismissal was necessary for the operational requirements of the business.

The high income threshold is a limit on an employee’s earnings that determines their eligibility to make an unfair dismissal claim. If an employee’s earnings exceed this threshold, they may not be eligible to make an unfair dismissal claim unless they are covered by an award or enterprise agreement. The high income threshold is adjusted annually and is currently set at $153,600 per year.

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