Termination of Senior Designer held to be lawful

Termination of Senior Designer held to be lawful

A senior professional employee has failed to convince the Fair Work Commission that his termination was harsh, unjust or unreasonable. Rather, the decision handed down by Commissioner Chris Simpson acknowledges the extensive and ultimately unsuccessful attempts by his employer to performance manage the employee over a number of years.

The former employee (DM) commenced work with SMEC Australia Pty Ltd (SMEC) as a Senior Designer – Water Infrastructure based in Brisbane on 29 February 2016, until his dismissal on 9 March 2021. SMEC operates across Australia providing specialist expertise and technology-driven solutions to a range of industries and infrastructure projects.

At the hearing, DM claimed that the termination was a culmination of stresses placed upon him by SMEC, who he claimed displayed an unhealthy workplace culture, failed to provide support for him to fulfil his role, and that the company was simply `out to get rid of him’.

In contrast, SMEC detailed several Performance Improvement Plans (PIP) and meetings they had undertaken with DM in response to his various behaviours and unsatisfactory performance. Indeed, they claimed that there had been issues with DM’s communication with other staff for nearly half of his five-year tenure with the company.

Specific concerns they had addressed with him concerning his unsatisfactory performance included:

  • Ineffective communication (both verbal and written);

  • Inability to follow company technical design standards; and

  • Inability to accept reasonable management instruction.

In a final incident that prompted his termination, SMEC determined that DM had verbally abused his team leader in a telephone conversation on 1 March 2021 and acted in an unprofessional manner by making derogatory comments about the Team Leader and the company in the same conversation.

Fundamentally, Commissioner Simpson agreed with SMEC’s processes, interactions and ultimate decision to terminate DM.

 As he stated in his decision,

“I have been satisfied on the basis of the evidence that the Respondent had a valid reason for the dismissal of (DM), based on his conduct and performance, that he was given ample opportunity to improve that conduct and performance, such that the only conclusion is that he was unwilling or unable to improve his communication, particularly with his team leader, Mr Cullen. This is not a case where it could be said there were procedural defects”.

DM v SMEC Australia Pty. Ltd (U2021/2633) 10 August 2021

For questions about performance management, dealing with unsatisfactory employees, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 1300 WAL LAW, 0417 622 178 or via email to dean.cameron@workforceadvisory.com.au

Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

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