Falsely accused can happen to you
Being the subject of false accusations at work can be a demoralising experience. If this has happened to you, you are not alone. In recent years the Fair Work Commission has heard several cases of workers who were dismissed based on false allegations.
In this article, we detail the cases of workers who had their names dragged through the mud by their employers, accused of misdeeds ranging from sexual harassment to child abuse. These cases all have a happy ending, however. Some of these workers came away from their experience with compensation in the tens of thousands.
Drunk worker who threw up at Opera House wins $17K
The unfair dismissal case Trudi Puszka v Ryan Wilks Pty Ltd T/A Ryan Wilks Proprietary Limited  involved a worker who was falsely accused of sexual harassment. Trudi Puszka worked as a project manager for electrical contractor Ryan Wilkes Pty Ltd. She had an admirable work history and had never had any performance or disciplinary issues.
On 20 July 2018, Ms Puszka attended a drinks function for a departing colleague held at the Sydney Opera House – a major client of her employer’s. The drinks took place after work hours at one of the public bars at the Opera House, with Ryan Wilks employees purchasing their own beverages.
“A small amount of regurgitated wine”: Work drinks gets messy
Fair Work Commission records reveal that Ms Puszka imbibed a “considerable number of alcoholic drinks.” In her unfair dismissal claim, she admitted that she had become so drunk that she vomited onto the floor of the bar. Ms Puszka told the commission that she only threw up what she described as “a small amount of regurgitated wine.” She then claimed that she was helped out of the bar by her coworkers and left in a taxi.
Word of Ms Puszka’s drunken behaviour soon made it to her employer. In addition to her extreme intoxication, Ryan Wilks accused her of insulting a coworker. The company claimed that she said the colleague “bats for the other side.” Ms Puszka was also accused of making sexual propositions to Opera House employees. Her employer alleged that Ms Puszka told an Opera House employee “don’t let anyone take advantage of me,” which it deemed sexual harassment.
False accusation ends in worker’s sacking
These complaints had been reported to the company anonymously by two Opera House staff. Notably, Ryan Wilkes did not receive any complaints from those who Ms Puszka allegedly insulted or sexually harassed. Ms Puszka admitted to her employer that “I have never been so drunk in my life.” She said that it was a “wake up call” for her. And that “I won’t be needing assistance or vomiting at functions in the future.”
However, Ms Puszka denied that she had insulted or sexually propositioned anyone. But her employer went ahead and summarily fired her for serious misconduct. Ryan Wilks stated that her intoxicated behaviour created a “serious and imminent risk” to the company’s reputation, viability or profitability.
Fair Work Commission uncovers false accusation
At Ms Puszka’s unfair dismissal hearing, the Fair Work Commission subpoenaed an email from the man she had allegedly sexually propositioned. The man had emailed Ryan Wilkes to say that he did not believe he had been propositioned. Also, that he was not offended by what Ms Puszka said to him.
The Fair Work Commission said that “astonishingly,” Ryan Wilks “knew the allegation to be false.” However, the company had still used it as a reason to sack Ms Puszka. With regard to the allegation that she had disparaged colleagues, it was found that Ryan Wilks had “curious evidence” to back it up. This consisted of second and third-hand testimony from “mysterious” anonymous witnesses.
Worker wins big at Fair Work Commission
Ms Puszka, meanwhile, provided the Fair Work Commission with the testimony of her friend who was at the Opera House drinks that night. This testimony was found to be “strangely inconsistent evidence of the employer.” The commission said that Ryan Wilks was “understandably concerned” about Ms Puszka’s conduct that night and the effect it could have on a contract renewal with the Opera House. However, this was not found to be a valid reason to have summarily dismissed her.
“Frankly, if one act of inoffensive drunkenness at an after-work function provided valid reason for dismissal, I suspect that the majority of Australian workers may have potentially lost their jobs,” the Fair Work Commission stated. For unfairly dismissed Ms Puszka, Ryan Wilks was ordered to pay her $17,758.00.
Fired worker falsely accused of child abuse wins $33.5K
The unfair dismissal case Jenny Wood v Amigoss Preschool and Long Day Care Co-Operative Ltd  involved a teacher who was not only dismissed for false accusations. But also, arrested by the police. Jenny Wood was an early childhood teacher at Amigoss Preschool. In March 2020, five years after starting in a full-time capacity, Ms Wood made several complaints against the preschool’s CEO. This included that the CEO had harassed, spoken aggressively and invaded her personal space, amongst other complaints. These were found by the preschool to not be substantiated.
In October 2020, the CEO had a discussion with Ms Wood’s manager about her performance. The manager then wrote a report detailing the “shortcomings” that Ms Wood “had been presenting for several years.” After this was presented to the preschool’s board, the CEO was allowed to set a “without prejudice meeting” with Ms Wood. The aim of this meeting was to provide her with the chance to resign instead of facing disciplinary action for her work performance.
Teacher told to resign or face disciplinary action
Shortly after showing up to work on 26 October 2020, Ms Wood was asked to attend this meeting. She was not given any notice of the meeting, nor told of the reason for it. She also was not provided the chance to bring a support person with her. Ms Wood was asked to sign a “without prejudice declaration form.” This outlined that neither she nor Amigoss Preschool could rely on any discussions held during the meeting in any subsequent proceedings.
The CEO then told Ms Wood that they had received numerous complaints from parents about her behaviour. He did not, however, provide any details about these complaints. The CEO said that Ms Wood’s employment was no longer tenable. He told her that she could sign a deed of release to end her employment, or she would face disciplinary proceedings.
Employer makes false accusations
It was at this point that Ms Wood sought legal representation. Ms Wood and her legal team exchanged numerous emails with Amigoss Preschool, then on 9 November 2020 she returned to work. Upon arriving, Ms Wood was immediately brought into a meeting, in which she was placed on suspension. She was also handed a letter that outlined “a number of allegations of serious misconduct that have recently been brought to our attention.”
Ms Wood was subsequently sent an email which outlined five allegations of misconduct. This included that three years prior, she had physically abused a child by tying their hands together with tape or rope. It was also alleged that she had exhibited disrespectful behaviour by scolding a child for not having completed a brain activity properly.
False accusations sees teacher arrested
Ms Wood was provided the chance to respond to these accusations. But Amigoss Preschool decided to summarily dismiss her for serious misconduct. Then on 25 November 2020, Ms Wood was arrested by the NSW police. She was charged with two counts of assault of a student while attending school. These charges were however dismissed in April 2022.
While Ms Wood was exonerated of any criminal charges, her arrest had terrible consequences for her career. Once charged, she had her government accreditation to work with children revoked. She was therefore unable to find work and relied on her parents, periodically staying with them and subsisting on the earnings of fruit picking work.
Fair Work Commission uncovers false accusations
At Ms Wood’s unfair dismissal hearing, the Fair Work Commission branded Amigoss Preschool for its “unconscionable and unscrupulous conduct.” It stated that the CEO and pre-school director had made “erroneous claims of serious child abuse.” The commission said their false accusations “should trouble the conscience of those individuals.”
The process involved in dismissing Ms Wood was also found to be riddled with a “litany of mistakes.” The Fair Work Commission therefore found that she had been unfairly dismissed. Amigoss Preschool was subsequently ordered to pay Ms Wood $33,488.00.
Bus driver falsely accused of using racial slur wins $17K
This unfair dismissal case comes to us all the way from Ireland. In 2020, bus driver Martin Cormican was sacked by Blue Line Coaches based on a false accusation that he had used a racial slur. In September 2020, Mr Cormican was assigned to drive a shuttle bus service for a client. Blue Line Coaches’ general manager claimed that Mr Cormican had called an employee of the client company a “fat Chinese c***.”
Parties make arguments to Irish tribunal
At Mr Cormican’s unfair dismissal hearing with the Irish Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Blue Line Coaches Ltd contended that he had been lawfully fired for gross misconduct. The company claimed that it had received two statements from drivers who said they had heard the racial slur. Blue Line’s general manager also claimed that Mr Cormican had “admitted using this language” in a meeting the day after.
Mr Cormican offered a different narrative, however. He argued that on the day of the alleged slur, he had misread his work docket which resulted in him missing several passengers due to a changed route. And that during the meeting the following day, the general manager had spoken to him about his job performance and “stupidity.” Mr Cormican said that there was “no accusation of using a racial slur” raised.
The tribunal’s verdict
The WRC rejected the racial slur allegation as “false and unsubstantiated.” It found that the statements made by the two drivers were “likely” prepared at least a year after Mr Cormican’s sacking in September 2020. This was because the written statements were dated 14 September 2022, despite the case being called for hearings in May and June 2022. The workers who made the statements were not available to testify at the hearing, one of them having passed away.
The WRC found that Mr Cormican had “misread his work docket,” emphasising that this error did not constitute gross misconduct or grounds for dismissal. Mr Cormican was awarded €8,928, which equates to around AU$17,000.
Worker falsely accused of stealing confidential information wins $9K
The unfair dismissal case Stuart Gates v Blugibbon Pty Ltd  involved a worker who was falsely accused of stealing confidential information. Stuart Gates was employed by Blugibbon, a medical recruitment agency. In April 2021, he had received a warning about his performance and conduct. Mr Gates subsequently went on sick leave, providing medical certificates to support his absence.
While on leave, Blugibbon received an IT report indicating abnormal download activities on Mr Gates’ work laptop. This triggered suspicions that he might be copying confidential information. Believing this to be the case, the company quickly took steps to secure their data. This included requesting the return of Mr Gates’ work mobile and changing the password to his email account. Blugibbon later dismissed him for serious misconduct without putting the allegations to him.
Fair Work Commission finds no proof of wrongdoing
The Fair Work Commission accepted that the information of some companies may be so sensitive that an employee logging into its systems while on leave could be a security risk. However, it found that Blugibbon was not one of these companies. Therefore, it did not have a valid reason to dismiss Mr Gates.
The Fair Work Commission also uncovered that Blugibbon did not have proof that Mr Gates had copied any confidential information. It found fault with the cybersecurity report the company had created while investigating his alleged misdeeds. This report only confirmed what Blugibbon already knew about Mr Gates’ activities on his computer. But it did not provide evidence of any information copying.
Worker awarded massive payout
It was accepted that Blugibbon had sacked Mr Gates merely on the suspicion of wrongdoing. And that the company had not conducted a proper investigation. It was also found that Mr Gates “was not awarded any procedural fairness in any way.” Mr Gates was not notified of the reason for his dismissal nor was he given the chance to respond to them. Blugibbon was therefore ordered to pay him $9,050 in compensation.
Conclusion to: Employees dismissed due to false accusations
A Whole New Approach offers expert guidance to ensure the success of your unfair dismissal claim. Our track record includes assisting over 16,000 employees in taking action through the Fair Work Commission. Annually, we receive more than 120,000 online inquiries from individuals across every state and territory in Australia.
Our team is ready to assist you if you’ve encountered unfair dismissal, a sham redundancy, forced resignation, discrimination, sexual harassment, falsely accused at work, or any other violation of your workplace rights. It’s crucial to act promptly, as you have only 21 days from your dismissal date to file a claim with the Fair Work Commission. We are not lawyers, we are experianced workplace advisors, representatives and commentators
For a confidential consultation on how we can support you, contact us at 1800 333 666.