Employers become more centre focused on themselves
These is no doubt that employee rights are expanding and well publicized. Sexual harassment, excising of workplace rights, and a tight labor market, makes it a more employee world. (for the moment anyway). General protections claims are rising and over all the payouts awards by the courts across Australia in the last few years have dramatically increased. However harsher dismissals are on the rise. Why? There is no clear evidence why. Are employers more fragile and cranky post lockdowns? Employers become more centre focused on themselves? Or given up caring for employees around them. What I do know there is a substantial human cost in all this. Dismissed too soon: Are employers getting worse? is well worth the discussion.
Dismissed instead of getting a second chance
In 2017, global financial services giant Western Union was found to have dismissed an Australian employee because he was suffering from depression and anxiety. The ruling, made by the Fair Work Commission as part of an unfair dismissal claim, saw the employee win $140,000 in compensation.
In this case, the employer was rightly punished for what was a grossly insensitive way to handle an employee’s mental health issues. But not all cases end up with justice being served like this one. In recent years, it almost seems like we’re seeing more stories hit the headlines that involve employers who have stood down. Suspended, subjected to unfair workplace investigations or dismissed their workers for insensitive and unjust reasons.
If an employee falls on hard times, or makes a mistake, dismissal is often the first option that many employers take. Second chances, it seems, are a rare luxury at some Australian workplaces.
Man claims he was dismissed because he’s dying
A few months ago, the story of an Australian fast-food company worker shocked many across the country. It involved 33-year-old Chris Mahoney, an employee for Craveable Brands – the multi-national company that owns Red Rooster and Oporto.
In October 2021, Chris was dealt some horrible news when he was told that he had terminal bowel cancer. Even worse, Mr Mahoney was informed that his cancer had spread to his liver and lungs. He was given just nine to eighteen months to live. When you receive news like that, most of the time you would be safe to assume that things are not going to get any worse. But when Mr Mahoney told Craveable Brands that he was dying of cancer.
He claims that they responded by effectively dismissing him. That is, he was forced to resign from his permanent position. He was, however, offered to continue working for Craveable Brands on a casual basis. Mr Mahony has since made an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission (FWC).“I’m not going to give up until I die or win,” Mr Mahoney told A Current Affair. “All I know is if I don’t survive, at least I’ll have tried.”
Was he forced to resign?
The treatment of Mr Mahoney by Craveable Brands gets even worse, however. After being forced to resign, he claims that the company completely cut him off.
“I texted, I called, and they were my support network for my terminal diagnosis,” said Mr Mahoney. It was an entire part of my life that was just ripped away. In the most cruel fashion all I can assume is as soon as I was no longer valuable to them, they tossed me aside. I’m already dead. As far as they’re concerned.”
Craveable Brands has, of course, refuted the allegations made by Mr Mahoney.
“We reject any suggestion that Chris was dismissed or coerced into resigning, Further we dispute the other claims submitted to the FWC,” “We know this is a tough time for Chris and for his family. That is why, in recent months, we have made a number of offers of settlement to resolve this dispute.”The company said in a statement.
Why are employers so quick to dismiss their workers?
Mr Mahoney’s dismissal due to his cancer diagnosis is one of the more unconscionable decisions we’ve seen an employer make. And in recent times, we’ve seen many other cases of employers dismissing, suspending or standing down their staff for questionable reasons.
Some are even comical. From omitting an emoji from a text, to complaining about only getting three chicken nuggets for lunch. It seems for many employees, even the most minor of infractions can see them incur the wrath of their boss. There’s no denying that there are some terrible employers out there who place the interests of the business above all else. For these employers, profit and maximizing worker output seem to trump any concerns for their employees’ health and wellbeing.
If an employee falls on hard times or is suffering from illness, the first thought of these employers isn’t compassion. Or if an employee makes a mistake, quite often they are denied the benefit of the doubt and the luxury of a second chance. Instead, the employer is quick to issue a warning, suspension or dismissal.
Of course, these employers are in the minority. But is this sort of behaviour a symptom of a broader culture that compels employers to dismiss an employee first, and ask questions later? One where if an employee makes a mistake or perhaps struggles to settle into their role, they are quickly dismissed, rather than given a second chance?
The ever-pervasive doctrine of “hire slow, fire fast”
In the last decade, we’ve seen HR experts, business leaders and academics recommend a slew of new human resources trends that have quickly gained mainstream acceptance. Many of these trends have been beneficial to employees and show that there are many progressive employers out there.
One, of course, is the increasing acceptance of flexible working arrangements that many corporates now uphold as a key part of their culture. So too the importance that employers increasingly place on championing the health, wellbeing and diversity of their staff. Others HR trends, however, clearly prioritise the interests of employers above all else.
One that has emerged in recent times is the doctrine of “hire slow, fire fast.” Touted by storied institutions like Harvard University and popularized by leading business-focused publications like Forbes. “hire slow, fire fast” has become standard practice for many employers. Start-ups, large corporates and even small business swear by the practice. As the name suggestions, the practice recommends that employers invest time and due diligence into hiring the “perfect” candidate. And if they don’t end up being perfect, the employer shouldn’t hesitate to dismiss them.
HR trends are resulting in undue suffering for employees
The business world is rife with catchy maxims that on the surface seem like good ideas. And while they may be well-intentioned, in practice some of these HR trends can result in undue suffering for employees. Critics of the “hire slow, fire fast” doctrine argue that the mentality of dismissing an employee as soon as they start having difficulty with their job leads to all sorts of negative consequences. Not only for the employee, but for the business too.
“Like a lot of concepts from the startup world, [hire slow, fire fast] has been put through so many rinse and repeat cycles that it’s lost any meaning and become a battle cry for bad managers who don’t know how to support and develop talent, to churn through human-beings like snack-room k-cups,” argues one critic.
Many employers say one thing but do another
HR practices like “hire slow, fire fast” seem to make no pretence about the desire of many employees to treat their staff simply as commodities. These same companies are often those who loudly voice their commitment to promoting the diversity, heath and wellbeing of their employees.
Today, it’s not uncommon to find a company’s “people-first” values enshrined on their website and throughout their internal corporate communications. But often, the internal practices of these companies bely their oft-proclaimed commitment to the wellbeing of their employees.
A particularly glaring example of this is the case of Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto. As you would expect for any multinational organisation, Rio Tinto dedicates a large swathe of its website to detailing its commitment to a number of people-first values. This includes loudly proclaiming its focus on increasing female representation in its workforce. It’s commitment to respecting human rights – in particular those of Indigenous Australians. And of course, its avowal to provide a workplace culture that promotes the health and safety of its employees.
“Caring for each other is one of our values. It is part of who we are and the way we work, every shift, every day,” states Rio Tinto on its website. “Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of our employees, contractors and communities”.
Bullying is rampant
But in 2022, a report commissioned by Rio Tinto itself revealed that bullying across its global workforce of almost 50,00 employees was rampant. The report states that “bullying and sexism are systemic across Rio Tinto worksites, with almost half of the people experiencing bullying.”
Notably, in the last five years nearly a third of Rio Tinto’s female employees had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Racism, too, has also been rife. Roughly a third of Rio Tinto’s Indigenous employees said they had experienced racism in the workplace.
Employers are too quick to dismiss: What happened to getting a second chance?
There are many employers that truly do practice what they preach when it comes to people-first initiatives. And certainly not all are prone to dismiss, suspend or stand down an employee at the first sign that they may be encountering difficulty – either at work or in their private life.
But as we see a growing number of such cases hit the headlines. This is in addition to the increasing incidents of workplace bullying and sexual harassment. It seems that many employers simply pay lip service to the people-first ideals that they claim are a central tenet of their culture.
How Many People Have you fired too soon
Conclusion to: Dismissed too soon: Are employers getting worse?
Have you been unfairly dismissed?
If you feel you were dismissed too soon, and for an unfair reason, A Whole New Approach can help. As Australia’s leading workplace advisors and commentators, we have extensive experience helping employees make unfair dismissal claims. We are not lawyers, nor do we want to be. Any Fair work Australia, issues, casual employee rights, workplace investigations, call for a chat.
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