Accountant's sacking not due to exercise of workplace rights, says court

An accounting firm dismissed a client manager because of serious misconduct rather than the "several and various exercises of his workplace rights" in the lead-up to his dismissal, the Federal Circuit Court has found.

Chan & Naylor (Parramatta) Pty Ltd terminated the employment of the client manager after more than six years' service when it became aware – while the manager was on leave due to illness and an injury allegedly suffered at work – that his actions had exposed some clients to additional tax liabilities and potential fines and penalties.

The firm also became aware that he had been conducting private business during working hours and using company resources.

After the manager refused to meet with his managers to discuss the issues and then provided an inadequate response by email, the firm dismissed him.

The client manager, however, alleged that he was sacked because of bullying, harassment and discrimination allegations he had made over several years and more recent complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman about unpaid wages and leave entitlements and to WorkCover about a back injury.

He also argued that the accounting firm took adverse action when it dismissed him while on leave.

Judge Robert Cameron, however, found that the client's serious misconduct was both sufficiently serious to justify dismissal and the sole basis for the company's action.

He said he accepted that the "several and various exercises of his workplace rights did not motivate Chan & Naylor Parramatta" to dismiss the manager.

Judge Cameron said that evidence also supported a finding that the company was "concerned with the way he performed his work, not whether he was absent because of illness".

He also rejected allegations by the client manager that he had been treated differently to other staff who had not been disciplined for mistakes or misconduct, saying that he did not believe that any other employee had engaged in conduct of the "same serious quality".

Mendonca v Chan & Naylor (Parramatta) Pty Ltd & Anor [2014] FCCA 1042 (2 June 2014))