A recent decision handed down by the Fair Work Commission (previously known as Fair Work Australia) proves every employer needs some type of employment policies. Ignore them at your peril.
Barwon Health dismissed a long-serving Specialist in Anaesthesia, Dr Mark Colson, on the basis of the employee’s alleged ‘serious misconduct’. According to Barwon Heath Dr Colson had:
a) deliberately submitted claims for theatre services in breach of the health service’s guidelines and directives, and
b) circulated a ‘deliberately offensive’ letter about the health service’s management team to every employee working in Geelong Hospital’s Anaesthesia Department
The Commissioner of the Fair Work Commission found that Barwon Health was wrong to dismiss Dr Colson and ruled that Barwon Health must reinstate Dr Colson to his former position.
The issue is that The Commissioner believed Colson’s behavior was ‘misconduct’, but that Barwon Health should not have terminated because there were no policies or procedures in place suggested that his behavior would result in the termination of his employment.
The Commissioner found that the guidelines for claims were vague enough to allow Dr Colson to submit the claims in the way that he had. Had these billing guidelines – or policies – been issued properly the termination would have been agreed by the Commission.
The ‘deliberately offensive’ letter that Dr Colson distributed The Commissioner found that Barwon Health had not done enough to make it clear that correspondence was unacceptable and could result in disciplinary action, including the possible termination of employment.
If clear policies of communication had been implemented, Dr Colson’s dismissal may have been valid.
Your employees enjoy a huge range of rights and entitlements that are granted by the Fair Work Act, Modern Awards, Paid Parental Leave Act and other state and commonwealth laws. In contract, employers have few rights or entitlements and employees have even fewer obligations.
The Commissioner has already stated that the size of business does not matter.
An effective way for you to bring balance between you and your employees is by rolling out well-drafted workplace policies that impose clear rules, proper procedures and important obligations upon employees.