In a recent decision of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) the culture of one employer was referred to as both dysfunctional and shambolic – ouch!
Ironically, the matter before the FWC was an unfair dismissal case where the employer had alleged that the dismissed employee’s conduct was “grave misconduct towards colleagues causing conflict and negativity in the workplace”.
The employer alleged that the employee engaged in conduct such as being disrespectful and dismissive of a colleague as well as shouting at the colleague in front of the whole office. It was also alleged the employee openly discussed her dislike of this colleague with other employees and deliberately excluded the colleague from conversations. The employee was also alleged to have called another colleague “bubble butt”.
The employee in response alleged that she had been an employee for 8 years and these alleged issues had never been brought to her attention prior to her dismissal. She alleged that it was common practice within the workplace to refer to colleagues by their nicknames and asserted that she was referred to as “Nesticle” or “PNess” and advised FWC that other employees were known by nicknames such as “Sushi Fish Flaps” and “Money Bags”.
After hearing all of the evidence in the case, the Commissioner found the following:
“Like all dysfunctional workplaces built on competing strong personalities and personal fiefdoms, loyalties were fluid and allegiances changed from time to time”. He went on to say that “staff had crude nicknames for each other, played pranks on one another, joked and mucked around in the office, until the inevitable happened. Pranks and nicknames got out of hand and individuals became upset and hurt”.
The Commissioner identified that the crucial question to be answered was “where was senior management and where were the policies and processes to deal with a rapidly escalating, [and] out of control problem”. In answering his own question, the Commissioner said “There were certainly no formal processes in place to deal with inter-relationship issues in the workplace. It was a complete and appalling breakdown of managements responsibility which I find to be utterly unacceptable”.
In addition to being openly critical about the HR practices at the workplace, the FWC also expressed the following view regarding the Director responsible for the dismissal. “His management skills leave much to be desired. His approach to dismissing the employee and the lack of procedural fairness was appalling and contrary to any common sense understanding of what constitutes decent and responsible employment procedure”.
Knowing where the line is between a robust workplace and a potentially dysfunctional one can be difficult. If you are concerned that your culture may be headed in the wrong direction it may be time to review it, and if necessary, develop proactive strategies to steer the culture in the right direction. Although this case is perhaps at the extreme in terms of the public criticism of the employer and the culture at the workplace, it is not isolated. The reputational and financial risks of turning a blind eye to cultural or interpersonal issues in your workplace outweigh the investment in addressing such issues if and when they arise.
If you would like some advice on the health of your workplace culture or if you are experiencing challenges with the interpersonal communications within your workforce, we can help you. It would be ideal to avoid the risk of having a shambolic culture not to mention having it broadcast in the public domain. Please contact me on Cherylfirstname.lastname@example.org or 3218 3014.
Rojas v Beacon Products Pty Ltd  FWC 4317 (16 August 2018)
Please note that this publication is intended to provide a general summary and should not be relied upon as a substitute for personal advice.