Home - Persistent breaches of workplace policies can justify dismissal

UpdatesMar 23, 2019

Persistent breaches of workplace policies can justify dismissal

Employers often ask if breaches of workplace policies are sufficient to justify dismissal. Whilst a substantial and wilful breach of a policy will generally constitute a valid reason for dismissal, multiple minor breaches of a policy, even if each individual breach may not be capable of being regarded as serious, can also constitute a valid reason for dismissal.

By Hannah Pelka-Caven

Employers often ask if breaches of workplace policies are sufficient to justify dismissal. Whilst a substantial and wilful breach of a policy will generally constitute a valid reason for dismissal, multiple minor breaches of a policy, even if each individual breach may not be capable of being regarded as serious, can also constitute a valid reason for dismissal.

This was recently illustrated in Hanson v Rhino Rack (2019), where the Fair Work Commission (FWC) upheld the dismissal of a warehouse worker who repeatedly breached his employer’s policies.

The employee had been employed as a store person in the employer’s warehouse since April 2017.

The employer had several policies and procedures which governed conduct within the warehouse, and were applicable to the employee’s eventual dismissal:

The employee was caught repeatedly breaching the above policies and was verbally cautioned. He also received a written warning in relation to his breach of the no-smoking policy. However, despite these warnings, the employee continued to breach the applicable policies.

As a result, the employer commenced a disciplinary process, giving the employee a show cause letter stating that the employee was intentionally and persistently breaching their policies and procedures.

The employee responded to the allegations stating, “…for the most part I can’t say I’m innocent.” In response, the employer terminated his employment.

The employee then commenced unfair dismissal proceedings. The employee argued that he had not breached the employer’s policies and procedures, but that if he had it was either not intentional or that the procedures were not important and he was only required to “try” to follow them.

The FWC Deputy President found that the employer’s policies and procedures, and the directions to follow them, were reasonable and lawful and the employee had repeatedly breached those policies and directions, even given he had been informally and formally warned not to do so.

The Deputy President stated

“While [the employee’s] conduct may not in isolation have justified his dismissal … I am satisfied that [the employee’s] conduct involved, in aggregate, a consistent pattern of behaviour that demonstrated a repeated disregard for and refusal to comply with Rhino Rack’s lawful and reasonable policies, procedures and directions. I am satisfied in those circumstances [the employee’s] conduct constituted a valid reason for his dismissal.”

He also examined the disciplinary process followed by the employer and found that it was procedurally fair and that the dismissal “was proportional to the persistent nature of his conduct and was not in all the circumstances harsh, unjust or unreasonable”.

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