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How to deal with threats of [unfair] dismissal at work?

By BimboGeek 12 July 2010 26

Urgently need some advice!

The background: I have worked for a not for profit organisation for a number of years. They only employ me part time, so when my second employer closed down and due to some other financial issues, the work I do for this student organisation is only enough to either pay my living expenses OR my debt repayments, not both. To make matters worse, I broke my hand earlier this year, and the medical profession in Canberra only noticed and treated one out of my two fractures, splinted me incorrectly, causing further injury… Long story short, I wanted to go to a city that has a hand clinic so my injury could be treated properly.

So earlier this year I got permission from the president and committee at my work to work remotely from another city, where I can live for free with family until my debts are repaid and I can afford to rent again. Working remotely does not affect me performing my duties because I’m basically a computer nerd who in the years of working for the organisation never gets seen by anyone anyway, except at social events, which I help organise, and hence we agreed that I would return to Canberra monthly to help run the events.

After a new AGM our new President started his term with a normal staff review. So this new Prez, whom I have never met, called me up on Monday out of the blue. He told me the new committee (only 3 of whom I have met) has done a staff review and decided that they want to have social events coming out of their ears this semester. Much more frequently than once a month. So they no longer like my remote working arrangement and want me based in Canberra. I said that would be great for me as well, however I would really need more hours to be able to do that. He very politely told me that this is not going to happen, and that he is going to be “extremely generous” (he described himself thusly 4 times in our 10 minute conversation) and give me until the end of the month to move back to Canberra. He was also “extremely generous” to give me until Friday to provide him a written response stating that I will be back in Canberra by the end of the month.

There was no conversation, no negotiation, no discussion, no listening to what I had to say. He said he will call me on Friday to see “what I had to say”.

So Friday I got a notification on my mobile phone after 10pm that I had a missed call. I’m in a very unstable reception area here, so this does happen from time to time. This morning I received an email from him “directing” me to resume employment in Canberra and stating that my telecommuting has not been effective (first I’ve ever heard of this, since he originally said he wanted me onsite to help with additional events). He says that my employment will be terminated if I do not comply and that I am required to confirm in writing by the end of the week whether I will be returning to Canberra.

Isn’t there some laws governing how employees may be fired?

What’s Your opinion?

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26 Responses to
How to deal with threats of [unfair] dismissal at work?
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nhand42 5:14 pm 13 Jul 10

BimboGeek said :

To nhand42 – I was on site for several years and 90% of all communication occurred over email.

Then for several years the employer wasn’t getting value for money. The new president is justified in expecting a minimum level of onsite attendance from employees. E-mail is a lousy form of communication. You are perhaps an introvert; IT needs fewer introverts.

Furry Jesus 3:36 pm 13 Jul 10

I suspect that a number of contributors to this discussion don’t work in not-for-profits – HR division?!. If you have such close contact with the president in relation to your work, that suggests to me a small organisation with a flat structure, and a management committee which has a lot of hands-on responsibility (urk! warning bells are ringing!! Unqualified and inexperienced people with power and not enough organisational checks or accountability)

If this 80-20 split of your work has been going on for a substantial amount of time, then it should be regarded as your ongoing work arrangements. If there is a concern about the telecommuting not working, this should have been managed by some performance management sessions (like supervision, but a bit more of the sharp end of the stick). Whatever the story, if you’re threatended with losing your job when there has been no history of opportunities to discuss and address concerns held by management, that’s in your favour. Your employer should have to show that reasonable steps were taken to get you to address their concerns to mount a successful defence aginst wrongful dismissal on this point.

as to having the right to demand that you move to Canberra, if this is because of these extra social events that will be happening so often that you need to be locally based to help with them, that is a diffculty for your case, but I tend to agree with those above that you should have been given more time to organise your affairs. The employer should have to be able to give some proof of substantial adverse effect on the NFP’s activities if you couldn’t move within the time frame required to justify dismissal.

The final questions – what award or workplace agreement covers your work and do you belong to a union? If you don’t know the answer to the first and it’s no to the second, learn a very important lesson from this. When you’re battling for fair treatment against a bad employer, it’s hard enough even when you have a union and an award behind you. When you’re on your own, you’re on your own. Don’t make the same mistake when you get your next job – but remember the old saying: walk softly, but carry a big stick.

housebound 12:27 pm 13 Jul 10

That’s called the ‘nothing to lose’ approach.

BimboGeek 10:19 am 13 Jul 10

NoAddedMSG said :

Ergh, and of course, the person you are having issues with will have read this, and will know it is about them. Do you think that will have helped the situation?

I don’t know. I was very distressed and really needed to get some advice cause legal aid will take a few days to get back to me. Feeling a lot calmer now, and maybe this was a bad idea on reflection, but either way I haven’t said anything here that is not true so I don’t think it will hurt the situation.

BimboGeek 10:12 am 13 Jul 10

harvyk1 said :

Hi BimboGeek

80% is not the complete job, as someone who has employeed people in the past, an employer needs 100% of the job done, and I myself have let people go who didn’t do the full job.

hence i travel to canberra once a month for the other 20%…

harvyk1 10:00 am 13 Jul 10

Hi BimboGeek

Just to pick up on a point you made

BimboGeek said :

Yes, the remote arrangement made with previous prez is in writing (email), but it is not in my contract. I can and do currently perform at least 80% of my job remotely.

80% is not the complete job, as someone who has employeed people in the past, an employer needs 100% of the job done, and I myself have let people go who didn’t do the full job.

In any case don’t send them anything until you have received a response from legal aid, if they press you simply state that you are receiving legal advice on your position, but leave it at that. They can not fire you for receiving legal advise (then you really would have an unfair dismissal claim).

Unfortuantely if you where to follow sepi’s advice and say to them “Send them an email stating that you are working on moving your life back to canberra to resume your employment with them, but that you will need a longer time period to arrange that,” that can then state that they have an agreement that you would move back, so if you don’t then they would have a right to terminate your employment.

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