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March 2021

Employment termination on medical grounds found to be not unfair

Employment termination on medical grounds found to be not unfair

The Case

Abeyratna v Iron Mountain Australia Group Services Pty Limited (2020)

Iron Mountain Australia Group Services Pty Limited (Iron Mountain) employed Mr Abeyratna as a Warehouse Information Specialist. Mr Abeyratna took paid and unpaid leave between February 2019 and May 2020 on the basis of numerous grievances he had made about his employment. Mr Abeyratna claimed, among other things, that bullying and harassment he had experienced in his employment had made him psychologically unwell.

Iron Mountain arranged an independent medical examination of Mr Abeyratna that concluded he was not fit to return to work and could not perform the inherent requirements of his position in the near future.

Iron Mountain tried to negotiate with Mr Abeyratna about returning to work with temporary reasonable adjustments. However, Mr Abeyratna refused to work and lodged further grievances.

When Mr Abeyratna did not return to work, Iron Mountain wrote to him, stating it appeared he was unable to return to work. Iron Mountain asked Mr Abeyratna to provide any information he wanted them to consider in relation to his continued employment. Mr Abeyratna responded, indicating he would not return to work until his 15 grievances were reinvestigated and a satisfactory outcome reached. Iron Mountain had already conducted an investigation and these matters were concluded. As such, Iron Mountain terminated Mr Abeyratna’s employment on the basis that he had not provided any evidence he would be fit to return to work in the foreseeable future.

Mr Abeyratna lodged an unfair dismissal claim in the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

The Verdict

The FWC held the termination of Mr Abeyratna’s employment was not unfair and dismissed his application. The FWC held Iron Mountain could rely on the medical evidence it had obtained, which concluded that Mr Abeyratna could not return to work to perform the inherent requirements of his position in the foreseeable future.

The Lessons

This decision emphasises the importance of obtaining strong medical evidence before deciding to dismiss an employee. Furthermore, you should provide the employee with a copy of the medical evidence and an opportunity to respond before finalising the decision to terminate employment.

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