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Workplace Termination, Now a $5.2 million Claim

The Federal Court has recently overturned the decision to award $5.2 million to an employee who was allegedly bullied and then terminated. The $5.2 million award is the largest in Australian legal history. However, a retrial will soon be held and may see the damages award increased further.

The case is against the ASX listed company, TechnologyOne. The employee, Behnam had complained many times during his employment and was labelled by the Judge as a “serial complainer”. There were 7 complaints against senior employees, including allegations of bullying and that he was sworn at by his superiors. However, there were also more minor complaints, such as being asked not to attend client meetings.

In an interesting turn, there was evidence produced by TechnologyOne which showed that there were a number of bullying complaints made against Benham. TechnologyOne failed to investigate these complaints and instead, dismissed Benham. Immediately following the dismissal, Behnam suffered a mental breakdown and a prior injury was exacerbated (that TechnologyOne was unaware of). Benham has been unable to work since.

How is this a Multi-Million Dollar Claim?

The Court condemned TechnologyOne for failing to investigate the bullying complaints made against Benham. TechnologyOne should have stood down Behnam during their investigation, interviewed all employees involved and come to a conclusion as to whether bullying had occurred. If bullying had taken place, then there should have been consideration as to whether a warning, reduction in duties or a dismissal was appropriate. The evidence suggested that the complaints were placed in the ‘too hard basket’ and it was easier to just terminate Behnam’s employment.

The key for TechnologyOne to avoid liability would have been to ensure an investigation was conducted, the punishment was proportionate to the findings of the investigation and for all complaints to receive equal treatment.

The impact on Behnam’s future employment also played a significant role in the amount of compensation. The case was brought under the adverse protections regime, rather than unfair dismissal. Whilst these can be similar claims, Behnam relied on adverse protections not having a monetary cap on compensation.

How You can Avoid a Multi-Million Dollar Claim

In avoiding a claim of this magnitude, we recommend that you:

  1. Have internal policies which set out what bullying is and how to make a complaint;
  2. Follow strict internal procedures for investigating every complaint. This includes interviewing all staff involved, coming to a conclusion as to what has happened, whether that conduct is bullying and whether your policies have been breached;
  3. Stand down the employee whilst you conduct the investigation;
  4. Consider a punishment or outcome that is equivalent to the findings of your investigation;
  5. Conduct a meeting with that employee to explain your outcome and allow them to bring a support person.

If you need assistance with your policies or a complaint made by an employee, please contact one of our experienced employment lawyers team members at Taurus Legal Management on (03) 9481 2000 or info@tauruslawyers.com.au.

Posted by ssdl