A call centre manager who was demoted for sleeping in and missing her shift has won her unfair dismissal claim at the Fair Work Commission. This unfair dismissal case is a prime example of an employer that thinks it can violate numerous worker rights and get away with it. And how the mistreatment of an employee can take a huge emotional toll – with the employee in this case left vomiting and crying.Worker demoted then dismissed for sleeping in could happen to any of us.
This unfair dismissal case also shows that it’s well worth taking your employer to the Fair Work Commission to get justice. Let’s delve into the details of this intriguing case – Aadeela Ms Raffie Raffie v Allied Express Transport Pty Ltd  – where facts and emotions collided, leaving the employee in a state of confusion and distress.
Casual worker gets demoted then dismissed for missing one shift
Sydney-based Natasha Raffie had been working for Allied Express Transport in a casual customer service capacity since November 2007. Over the years, she had established herself as a dedicated employee, committed to her role. And as such, in July 2017 she was awarded with a promotion to the position of NSW Call Centre Manager. But while everything seemed to be going well for Ms Raffie, on 24 December 2021, everything changed.
Central to this unfair dismissal case is that on that day, Ms Raffie failed to show up for work. She had provided no notice for her non-attendance. A manager attempted to call Ms Raffie, however she did not get a response. That’s when Allied Express Transport’s National Customer Service Manager, Jacqueline Hamad, reached out to Ms Raffie’s emergency contact, her mother. Ms Raffie’s mother then asked her brother to check on her. And he eventually found her sound asleep at home.
Worker receives demotion and 23.5 per cent pay cut for sleeping in
Central to this unfair dismissal case is what happened next. When Ms Raffie finally contacted Ms Hamad, she explained that she had overslept due to the effects of the medication she had taken the previous evening. Ms Raffie had taken two Endone (opioid) pills for her ongoing back pain. She assured her manager that she would come to work later that day, although she would be moving slowly due to her ongoing back pain.
However, during a subsequent phone conversation, Ms Hamad dropped a bombshell. Because she did not turn up to work, she told Ms Raffie that she was being demoted from her position as NSW Call Centre Manager to an Investigator role. To add insult to injury, her salary would be reduced from $85,000 per annum to $65,000 per annum. Naturally, Ms Raffie protested the sudden demotion and salary reduction. But her objections fell on deaf ears. To make matters worse, at 4p.m that afternoon a courier arrived at her home with a letter from Ms Hamad confirming her demotion.
“As per our discussion this morning, this letter is to confirm that you have been demoted to Investigator Position in the call centre effective immediately,” read the letter. In the letter, Ms Hamad requested Ms Raffie’s signature to acknowledge the demotion. But in a move that would play a key part in her unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission, Ms Raffie adamantly refused to sign it. This was because she deemed the demotion and salary reduction as illegal. The courier therefore left empty-handed.
Employee returns to work and faces more strife
Despite the demotion, Ms Raffie remained hopeful that it might have been a temporary outburst of anger from her employer. She decided to “stay sensible” and wait and see what her salary would be upon her return from annual leave, which she had scheduled until 4 January 2022. To her surprise, her pay for the leave period remained at her normal rate of $85,000 per annum.
On 4 January 2022, Ms Raffie returned to work, only to be met with further distressing events. The following day, she requested a withdrawal of $450 from her Christmas Club Savings due to her partner’s unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, her request was denied by Michelle McDowell, Allied Express Transport’s Managing Director. Instead, Ms McDowell offered Ms Raffie the opportunity to cash out 66 hours of her accrued annual leave, which she reluctantly agreed to.
“I vomited while in tears:” employee is humiliated and summarily dismissed over text
The key event of this unfair dismissal case took place on January 6, 2022. Ms McDowell offered Ms Raffie an AOE First Call Resolution role with a salary package of $65,000 per annum, $20,000 less than her previous position. Overwhelmed and unsure about accepting the role, Ms Raffie sought some time to make a decision.
However, her request for more time was met with impatience from Ms McDowell, who told her “This is not a discussion, but a yes or no answer Natasha.” Feeling pressured and distressed, Ms Raffie excused herself and went to the bathroom. There, overcome with panic and tears, and even vomiting, she informed Ms Landon that she needed to go to the doctor and left the workplace.
Shortly after leaving, Ms Raffie and Ms McDowell engaged in a heated text message exchange. Ms McDowell texted that “You have walked out and deserted your employment” and that Ms Raffie has “now been dismissed.” To this Ms Raffie stated that she had been “humiliated in front of all radio room staff” and “forced to make a decision on the spot.” She also said that as a result, she “suffered a massive panic attack” and “vomited while in tears.”
Employer denies notice of dismissal pay
Over text message, Allied Express Transport had summarily dismissed Ms Raffie for serious misconduct. Namely, for “deserting” her job by leaving the workplace. In dismissing Ms Raffie,the company failed to provide her with or pay out her notice period. Her termination pay was also paid according to her new $65,000 salary, not her previous salary of $85,000. Ms Raffie also noticed that she had $2,000 deducted from her pay without her authorisation.
Feeling that her demotion and dismissal had been unjust, Ms Raffie filed an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission.
Employer argues its case at Fair Work Commission unfair dismissal hearing
At Ms Raffie’s unfair dismissal hearing, Allied Express Transport told the Fair Work Commission that it had a valid reason to dismiss her. The company stated that on 6 January 2022, Ms Raffie had walked out of the workplace and “did not provide any details of her being unwell.” Nor did she “seek permission to leave” or “advise [anyone] when she would return [to work].”
Allied Express Transport argued that Ms Raffie’s desertion of her employment amounted to “serious misconduct, particularly in the context of [her] previous absenteeism and performance issues.” The company also argued that Ms Raffie’s absence on 24 December 2021 was unexplained. Also, that her subsequent refusal to sign the demotion letter demonstrated insubordination. The company also argued that the demotion and salary reduction were justified based on Ms Raffie’s alleged performance issues and the need for a disciplinary response.
Worker makes her case at her Fair Work Commission unfair dismissal hearing
At her unfair dismissal hearing, Ms Raffie argued to the Fair Work Commission that her demotion and salary reduction were unjust and lacked proper justification. She contended that her absence on 24 December 2021 was due to genuine health reasons and that her performance prior to that incident had been satisfactory.
Furthermore, Ms Raffie argued that the demotion and salary reduction violated the terms of her employment contract. This was because her contract stated that any changes to her role or compensation should be agreed upon by both parties. She asserted that Allied Express Transport’s unilateral decision to change her employment and pay was a breach of contract and constituted unfair treatment. Ms Raffie also highlighted her positive performance reviews and argued that her demotion was unjustified and an act of victimisation. She also presented evidence suggesting that other employees had faced similar issues and had been subjected to arbitrary changes in their roles and compensation.
“Capricious and spiteful:” Fair Work Commission rules on the unfair dismissal case
The Fair Work Commission found grave faults with much of Allied Express Transport’s argument. It dismissed the notion that Ms Raffie deserted her employment on 6 January 2022. And so too that desertion was a valid reason for her dismissal. The Fair Work Commission also found that Ms Raffie’s demotion and salary reduction were unfair and unlawful. It dismissed the notion that the company “had a right, express or implied, to unilaterally demote the [Ms Raffie] and/or reduce her salary by $20,000 per annum.” It was also found that “at no time did [Ms Raffie] accept the demotion, or the reduction in her annual salary.”
The Fair Work Commission found Allied Express Transport giving Ms Raffie just 10 minutes to decide on accepting a new role “gave rise to a level of anxiety and panic.” And that this caused her to be “upset, crying, attending upon the toilet to be physically ill.” It was also found that dismissing Ms Raffie after she left the workplace in this state was a “capricious and spiteful reason for [her] dismissal.”
“Serious breaches of the employment contract:” Fair Work Commission dismisses employer’s arguments
With regard to Ms Raffie’s demotion and salary reduction, the Fair Work Commission stated that this amounted to “substantial and serious breaches of the employment contract.” It found that Ms Raffie had “every right to insist that the terms of the employment contract be maintained.” The Fair Work Commission also found that by dismissing Ms Raffie over text, there was “a total absence of procedural fairness afforded to [her].” It said that an employee “must be made aware of allegations” concerning their conduct. And that they should “be given an opportunity to defend themselves.”
It was also found that by leaving the workplace on 6 January 2022, Ms Raffie had not engaged in serious misconduct, let alone misconduct, as Allied Express Transport had claimed. Ms Raffie’s purported performance issues were also found to not be supported by evidence. For all these reasons, the Fair Work Commission ultimately ruled that Ms Raffie’s dismissal had been harsh, unjust and unreasonable. As Ms Raffie did not wish to be reinstated, the Fair Work Commission ordered Allied Express Transport to pay her financial compensation. The amount that Ms Raffie would receive was to be calculated at a later date.
Have you been unfairly dismissed?
This unfair dismissal case just goes to show that if you have been mistreated by your employer. It’s well worth to take them to the Fair Work Commission. In Ms Raffie’s case, she was not just disrespected by her employer. She also had numerous of her rights infringed. And her employer offered little to no evidence to back up its claims. The Fair Work Commission easily saw through the employer’s unjust arguments, and made them pay.
If you have encountered an unjust dismissal, or have faced unfavourable actions by your employer, do not hesitate to reach out to us at A Whole New Approach. We specialise in offering professional support for cases involving unfair dismissals and adverse action. But hurry – you only have 21 days in which to lodge your claim with the Fair Work Commission. All general protection or adverse action matters call us now. Details of applications is here.
With over 30 years of experience and a dedicated team, we have successfully assisted more than 16,000 employees across Australia. At A Whole New Approach, we streamline the process of submitting a claim to the Fair Work Commission, ensuring it is fast and effortless. Benefit from our policy of no fees unless you win and contact us today at 1800 333 666 for a confidential and complimentary consultation. We work on a national basis, including, Victoria, NSW, QLD.