Should violent allegations against a co-worker constitute an immediate dismissal? The short answer here is no. One firm has learnt this lesson the hard way.
The Fair Work Commission found that CPB Contractors had unfairly dismissed a female employee after an allegation of attempted murder was made against her by a co-worker.
John (not his real name) went to CPB Contractors alleging that his co-worker, Jill (not her real name), hurled a spray of vile abuse at him including “you smart a**… arrogant p***k… f*****g d******d… c***s****r”. (Note: as much as I am sure you’d all love to know what was said, it’s not really blog appropriate so you’ll have to use your imagination).
He also stated that the next day, he was crossing the road and was forced to jump for his life when Jill intentionally accelerated at him while driving a truck towards him. His recount of the story refers to being 30cm from getting hit by Jill in the truck and that all he could think about was how close he was to never see his kids again.
Jill, although admitting to having a verbal exchange with John in which they both said horrible things, strongly disputes the fact she tried to run him over. She states that she was ‘going at a snail’s pace’ and stopped six to 10 meters away from him.
Although Jill denied the allegations, she was immediately terminated from her employment.
It was found that a text message John sent to his supervisor after the incident brought his allegations unstuck. The text message included a joke about the incident with an emoji which aided the decision to conclude that John’s versions of events were ‘inherently implausible’. An order for the employer to pay Jill $54,000 in compensation for unfair dismissal was awarded.
How to avoid making a similar mistake
It is crucial in any scenario of allegations – life-threatening or otherwise- to conduct a full investigation before making any determinations on whether to dismiss an employee. This process is called procedural fairness. Whilst conducting the investigation you should look for relevant evidence of the allegations, conduct interviews of witnesses, give the alleged wrongdoer a chance to reply and gather as much information about the situation as possible.
These steps will assist with determining whether the allegations are genuine, were made in bad faith or a result of a misunderstanding. Once you have all the relevant information, you are now better equipped to decide on the outcome.
If you need assistance in investigating serious incidents of misconduct in your workplace it is also recommended that you use an external provider to ensure that the investigation is without prejudice.
HR Gurus is here to help.
Written by resident HR Guru Madeleine Hall