What is a case of Genuine Redundancy?
The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to have a significant detrimental effect on many Australian businesses. Consequently, employers are looking to cut costs wherever possible and thus, there has been an increasing number of redundancies this last year. Although most redundancy cases are for a genuine reason. A recent decision before the Fair work Commission in Victoria has found that an employer’s failure to comply with their consultation obligations, rendered an employee’s dismissal unfair. Redundancy Rendered Unfair Dismissal, No Consultation, is an important topic, that needs to be addressed. This case has demonstrated the importance of proper procedure for redundancy and unfair dismissal claims in Victoria.
A dismissal is a case of genuine redundancy.
This is where the employer has satisfied the three elements under s.389 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).
The first requirement under this section is determining whether the job is still available. If your job no longer exists or is no longer required by the employer, your redundancy is likely to be genuine. If your job is still available but there has been a restructure or downsizing, the Fair work Commission will look to the remaining two factors in determining whether the redundancy is genuine.
The second requirement under this section is the employer’s obligation to consult with employees about the redundancy. The obligation on an employer to consult about redundancy only arises when a modern award or enterprise agreement applies. To an employee and that modern award or enterprise agreement contains requirements (which they often do) to consult about redundancy.
The third element that the employer must satisfy is whether it would have been reasonable in all of the circumstances for the person to be redeployed within the employer’s enterprise. Or the enterprise of an associated entity of the employer. If the employer does not consult with an employee, then it is arguably that the reasonable steps have not been taken to redeploy the employee as no discussion took place and so no alternatives were assessed.
If the employer fails to satisfy all three of these requirements, the Fair Work Commission must then determine whether the dismissal was unfair.
Redundancy was Rendered an Unfair Dismissal,
No Consultation COVID-19 Restrictions in Victoria No Excuse for Not Consulting
In Sposito v Maori Chief Hotel, a Victorian employee was made redundant but argued it was in fact an unfair dismissal. Because she was misled into believing that the employer was permanently ceasing its operations. Instead, the employee alleged the employer had since hired two casual staff members to perform her duties.
In response to the first element under s.389 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). Commissioner Cirkovic of the Fair Work Commission held that the employee’s job was no longer required because of changes in the operational requirements of the employer’s enterprise. Whilst two former casual employees have since been re-engaged by the Respondent, it was found that these employees perform other duties and not those the employee completed.
In response to the second element under s.389 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). Commissioner Cirkovic of the held that the employer failed to satisfy their consultation obligations and thus, the dismissal was not a case of genuine redundancy.
Employee was award covered
In reaching this conclusion, Commissioner Cirkovic acknowledged the employee was award-covered and there was a requirement to notify the employee of major changes in the organisation that are likely to effect her employment. During the hearing, the employer admitted that they did not engage in any such discussions.
The employer simply sent her the letter advising her of her redundancy, effective on the expiry of five weeks’ notice. The employer argued it was a “stressful period”, “unusual circumstances”. His belief that any conversation with the employee regarding her termination would be “emotionally charged”. Further, the employer argued that due to the restrictions associated with the lockdown, the employer was reluctant to contact the employee as they could not meet “face to face”.
Submissions for unfair dismissal unacceptable
Commissioner Cirkovic did not accept these submissions and held there was nothing preventing the employer from contacting the employee via telephone or arranging to speak to her via other means.
In response to the third element under s.389 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), Commissioner Cirkovic held that it would not have been reasonable for the employee to be redeployed. Given the directors reasonably believed that at the time of the employee’s dismissal, they would be closed for the foreseeable future.
Commissioner Cirkovic then addressed the criteria under s.387 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). In order to determine whether the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable. It was acknowledged that determining a dismissal was not a case of genuine redundancy does not necessarily lead to a conclusion that the dismissal was unfair. Rather, the Commission proceeds to consider the unfair dismissal application on its merits.
No valid reason
As the reason for the employee’s dismissal was redundancy, there was no valid reason in relation to capacity or conduct. Consequently, opportunity to respond and previous warnings are not relevant. Commissioner Cirkovic did acknowledge the employer is a small business with no internal human resources expertise. This likely affected their approach to dismissing the employee.
Ultimately, Commissioner Cirkovic held that if the employer had complied with their consultation obligations, and engaged in discussions with the employee about their decision and potential measures to reduce its impact on her, the employee could have had further notice of the impending termination of her employment. It was held that the dismissal was not unreasonable or unjust however, the employer’s failure to comply with the consultation provision in the Award renders the dismissal unfair.
Redundancy Rendered Unfair Dismissal, No Consultation.
This case demonstrates the importance of not cutting corners in the dismissal or redundancy process. Utilizing COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria as an excuse for why procedural fairness wasn’t afforded, is not an acceptable argument. If you have been made redundant by your employer, ensure that all the requirements have been satisfied. Otherwise, your redundancy may not be genuine and may constitute unfair dismissal.
Harmful effects of being let go
Losing a job is a huge adjustment and it’s normal to experience lots of emotions. You might feel shock, anger, resentment, and relief, all in a short period of time. Give yourself space, have some time out to think about and express these feelings. You might find it helpful to talk to other people about what you’re experiencing. alot of companies have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) programs as part of the exit package. Being made redundant is nothing to be ashamed of. You’re not to blame. Having some social support might help you to cope.
Being out of work can have a big impact on your self-esteem and sense of identity. (self respect and purpose plays important role in peoples lives). If your job has always been a big part of your life, you may wonder who you are without it. Be kind to yourself during this time. You could use it as a chance to reflect on what makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Perhaps you could write a list of all the skills and qualities you have, and take a moment celebrate to them. Look forward in life not backwards, you cannot “unscramble the eggs”.
If you need assistane or concerns with your mental health during this time, ring Lifeline, Beyond Blue or Head Space or consult your medical doctor. When we’re struggling with our mental health, it can be hard to manage our finances. And if we’re worried about money, it can make our mental health worse.
Creating a budget can be a good first step if you’re not sure where to start, Services Australia can help with this. Some people find it helpful to choose a regular time each week to look at bills and other spending. This can help to stop things piling up. Or, you could take out the amount of money you intend to spend each week, to help you stick to your budget.
Redundancy can lead to lots of worries about the future. Life might feel really unpredictable right now. If you’re struggling with feelings of uncertainty, try to focus on the things you can control. You may not be able to get your old job back, but you could spend some time polishing your CV and reaching out to recruitment agencies. (Linkedin) is great place to look online. If you’re feeling too stressed or worried to think about a new job yet, that’s OK too – take things at your own pace. Look forward, don’t look back. I’m speaking from experiance.
“Redundancy Rendered Unfair Dismissal, No Consultation”. I hope there was some benefit in this article for you. This is part of our ongoing commitment to employees knowing their workplace rights. Your always welcome to get advice from us at A Whole New Approach P/l. We are not lawyers, but Australia’s leading workplace advisors and workplace commentary.
Advise is free, prompt and honest. 1800 333 666. workplace investigations, unfair dismissals, harassment, constructive dismissals. Anything to do with the workplace call us to day. Issues to do with termination of employments and diversity in the workplace we are happy to discuss with you.