When making decisions to suspend workers for their conduct, it is important that employers follow their own policies and procedures which are often set out in a company’s HR manual. It is just as important that you are also familiar with the HR manual so that if an allegation is ever made against you, you know where you stand.
Take this recent case as a great example.
A worker suffered a psychological injury for several reasons, including how he was treated in the workplace with his boss making vague allegations about his behaviour. The process began to suspend the worker but despite specific procedures laid out in the HR manual the worker was not advised of all information being considered in the decision. He was then suspended without being given an adequate chance to respond. Not long after, the employer found there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations and advised the worker he could return to work. Unfortunately, by this time, the worker’s psychological injury had worsened as a consequence of this treatment and he was unable to return.
So who won?
At trial, a single judge found that the worker had suffered a psychological injury as a consequence of his treatment at work. Yet he also found that the employer had taken “reasonable administrative action in a reasonable manner”. In other words, they’d followed the right process in the circumstances. As lawyers for the worker, we did not believe this was the correct application of the law and appealed this decision.
Then what happened?
On Appeal, the Full Bench of three judges overturned the decision and found in favour of the worker. They said that in the circumstances the employer had not acted in a reasonable manner and found that the worker should have been given the relevant information they relied on to suspend him and given an opportunity to respond. They also referred to the significant relevance of the employer’s HR Manual and the employer’s failure to comply with clearly set out principles. It found the employer was bound to follow the promises as set out in the HR Manual, including specific procedures when dealing with unsatisfactory performance, discipline and termination.
So, what’s the lesson?
Make sure you know your rights in the workplace and become familiar with the HR manual and its processes. You may never need to use it but if there’s a dispute, it could be extremely important. Secondly, visit a lawyer as soon as you can as complicated workplace issues can seem overwhelming and you’ll need help and support to understand your rights and achieve the right outcome.
If you have been involved in a similar situation and are wanting advice on how to act, call us today on 1800 324 324 or send us a message.
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