Worker’s dismissed for verbal abuse
The fear of dismissal has likely prevented many of us from resisting the urge to hurl an insult at our boss. And it is true that talking bad about your boss, calling them names or belittling them can be grounds for a fair sacking. So too if you do the same to a colleague. Past unfair dismissal cases tell us that the Fair Work Commission will often take a hard line with employees who swear at or insult their boss. Particularly if it takes place in front of other employees and undermines their authority.
But it is not always as clear cut as that. When an employee insults their boss or a coworker, some employers may have a disproportionate response. They may fire the worker on the spot and deny them the opportunity to explain why they did it. In this article, we look at two Fair Work Commission cases involving workers who hurled some vile insults at their boss and coworkers. But as you will see, they met with different outcomes.
Bartender dismissed for calling management “c*nts”
The unfair dismissal case Reema Saad v M.A Lisek & S.S Louth-Robins  involved a casual bartender that hurled a particularly vile insult at her managers. Reema Saad had been employed at M.A Lisek since April 2022. From 20 May to 2 July 2023 she went on a holiday overseas, and prior to doing so, she had told her manager that she would be “quitting at the end of July.” Despite this, a bar manager asked her if she would be able to work upon her return. Ms Saad and the manager came to an agreement that she would work one shift per week.
On 26 June 2023, Ms Saad’s boss sent a message to her via Facebook telling her that there were no shifts for her when she returned from holiday. Ms Saad sent multiple messages to her boss expressing her annoyance with the news, stating that her boss had gone back on the previous agreement to work one shift per week. From this exchange of messages, the duo eventually reached an agreement for Ms Saad to work one shift per week.
Worker and boss have tense exchange
However, Ms Saad was still annoyed at the way she had been treated. This was despite her boss making several apologies for the misunderstanding about her shifts and the confusion that was caused. This resulted in an email exchange in which the boss said that Ms Saad “just wants to stay angry.” Ms Saad replied stating that she was not angry and “I don’t see the point in this, all I have asked was what was happening with my shifts.” She decided to refrain from sending any more emails, with her boss saying “If you want to keep chatting, let’s meet up in person.”
Casual bartender is given notice
While this exchange was taking place, the boss and another M.A Lisek manager were discussing Ms Saad’s conduct and work performance. They had initially agreed to offer her one shift per week. But after the attitude she had conveyed in her emails, they decided to fire her. They sent Ms Saad an email stating their intention to do so, citing a breakdown of trust and communication.
They also listed multiple reasons for their decision. This included Ms Saad regularly arriving late for work, giving away free drinks, resisting directions and being rude to colleagues and customers. M.A Lisek said that they would provide Ms Saad with one more shift, which would be supervised.
In response, Ms Saad demanded to know the names of those colleagues who had complained about her, which the manager’s denied. She stated: “I asked repeatedly for clarity with if you were wanting to fire me, just say so. And here we are today.”
Female employee delivers parting insult
Ms Saad also did not believe what her managers said about colleagues having complained about her. She sent an email to her boss demanding to see evidence of the complaints. This led to her boss emailing her on 13 July to say “Okk. Oughh…here we go then, attached the message I was referring to. But, oh well – again, good luck with your anger Reema… I hope though you find something else to feed you one day. Or not. You do you. Okay, bye.”
At this point, Ms Saad took that email to mean that she had been dismissed. So later that day she made multiple posts on M.S. Lisek’s Facebook chat group. This included copying and pasting the texts between her and her boss. She then left the chat group after posting one final parting message:
“Yes I got angry at him for it, for shutting down any conversation I tried to have about it during those 7 months. apparently this is something laughable now anyway thanks everyone, other than laura, sean & lilly, c*nts.” The next day, a M.A Lisek manager called Ms Saad to tell her not to come in for any more shifts. She replied that she “did not want to come in anyway.”
Fair Work Commission delivers ruling
At her unfair dismissal hearing, Ms Saad admitted to the Fair Work Commission that she had called M.A Lisek’s management “c*nts.” It was found that she had done so “for all other staff members to see their grievances with [the management].”
The Fair Work Commission did not agree with Ms Saad that she had already been dismissed before delivering the insult. Her conduct was characterised as “wilful and deliberate behaviour” that was “inconsistent with the continuation of the contract of employment.” This therefore amounted to serious misconduct “constituting a valid reason warranting summary dismissal.”
It was further noted that Ms Saad’s insult aimed at her employer’s management was a “deliberate” and “calculated” act that “did not need to occur.” The Fair Work Commission therefore rejected Ms Saad’s unfair dismissal claim.
Dismissed worker wins over $6K after calling boss “a wanker”
The unfair dismissal case Ms Roslyn Claydon v Celotti Workforce Pty Ltd  involved a worker who not only insulted their boss, but also their coworkers. Roslyn Claydon was employed as a business development manager for recruitment company Celotti Workforce in Darwin. On 27 January 2021, the 56-year-old was stood down after being informed about “serious concerns” regarding her conduct. The next day, she was sent a letter asking her to respond to several allegations of using foul language and insulting her boss and colleagues.
It was alleged that during a Microsoft Teams meeting, Ms Claydon had called the general manager of Celotti “a f*cking wanker” under her breath. She had also at other times referred to him as a “disgusting c*nt” and “f*cking misogynist.” Ms Claydon had also said to a colleague regarding the owner: “look at his pants, a real man would have a bulge.”
“Yeah I burped in your face”
In addition to these insults, Ms Claydon had also treated her colleagues in a way that could be considered bullying or harassment. This included calling several colleagues “incompetent.” She had also said a particular colleague had “mental health issues” and was a “little bitch.”
With respect to another colleague, it was alleged Ms Claydon treated her “like [her] personal assistant” by making her perform menial tasks and saying to her “fetch me that” or “do this for me now.” Ms Claydon had also belittled and constantly criticised this colleague, often telling her to “hurry up and don’t make mistakes.” Finally, it was alleged Ms Claydon had burped in the face of a junior colleague and laughed saying “yeah I burped in your face.”
“This is a c*ntish thing to do mate”
Ms Claydon’s offensive behaviour did not end there, however. Celotti also accused her of multiple obscene statements that she made after being stood down. This included saying in front of colleagues:
- “This is a c*ntish thing to do mate.”
- “I have not done anything in this company to deserve what you’re doing to me.”
- “This is f*cking outrageous.”
- “This is bullsh*t what you’re doing Nathan.”
- “Have fun in this sh*thole of a company girls.”
- “I have just been stood down with full pay by Nathan and he will not give me a reason as to why, this is absolutely outrageous! I have no idea what I have done wrong. I have done nothing but work my butt off for this company and have no idea what I have done to warrant this. I am on my way to see a lawyer.”
Worker attempts to justify slur
In her response to the letter, Ms Claydon denied most of the allegations. However, she conceded that she had called the general manager a “wanker.” Attempting to justify the insult, she claimed to have said it while referring to his alleged conduct at a work Christmas party. Ms Claydon had heard from a few young female employees that the general manager had been extremely drunk. She was told that he had placed his arms around them and “creeped them out.”
Ms Claydon argued that she had been “concerned” at the way the general manager had been “looking at the younger female members of the staff” prior to the party. So she had merely assured her coworkers by saying “don’t worry about it, he is just a wanker.” After Ms Claydon requested two weeks to reply to all of the allegations, Celotti decided to summarily dismiss her. The company cited “gross insubordination to senior management” as the reason.
Fair Work Commission rules on the case
At Ms Claydon’s unfair dismissal hearing, the Fair Work Commission found considerable fault with her conduct. It was found that she had “actively sought to undermine the authority” of the general manager with the Celotti’s Darwin staff. Her behaviour was described as “divisive” and “not commensurate with the professional relationship that was expected.” In addition, Ms Claydon’s behaviour towards her colleagues was seen as “intimidating” and “passive aggressive.”
“Did not cause serious and imminent risk”
The Fair Work Commission deemed Ms Claydon’s conduct to be “serious and inappropriate” and that it provided a valid reason for dismissal. However, it was found that her behaviour did not meet the threshold tests for serious misconduct. It was deemed to have “affected the wellbeing of the other employees.” But the Fair Work Commission felt that the conduct but “did not cause serious and imminent risk” to the health and safety of employees. Nor to the reputation, viability or profitability of Celotti’s business.”
The sacking was therefore found to be unfair based on procedural flaws and Celotti was ordered to pay Ms Claydon $6,153. This consisted of four weeks’ pay in lieu of notice, with one week’s pay deducted due to misconduct.
Conclusion to: Can you be dismissed for insulting your boss?
Contact A Whole New Approach today. (we are not lawyers) For over 30 years, we’ve assisted more than 16,000 Australian workers in every state and territory to take action via the Fair Work Commission. Our expert team can help you if you have faced unfair dismissal, a sham redundancy or a forced resignation. Also, if you have suffered from discrimination, sexual harassment or any other violation of your workplace rights.
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