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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.

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?
Ari 9:53 pm 12 Jul 10

Given the preemptive excuses, blame shifting and self-pity offered by the original poster:

“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…

… I wanted to go to a city that has a hand clinic so my injury could be treated properly.

… Working remotely does not affect me performing my duties because I’m basically a computer nerd who … never gets seen by anyone anyway, except at social events, which I help organise

… 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.”

I would say the original post doesn’t quite give the full picture of this situation.

sepi 9:12 pm 12 Jul 10

This is tricky, as they technically are not terminating your employment, but changing it.

I’m not sure what sort of notice they should be giving you that your job now required you to be 100% in Canberra. It is also probably very important to know whether it was officially agreed that you work remotely, or just a casual arrangement. Is the remote work arrangement documented, even in board minutes or something?

I would stall them a bit. 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, and also ask for feedback on how the remote arrangements can be made to work better.

I’m sure they should be providing you with feedback on what is not working before changing your working conditions so drastically.

Anyway – I would stay business like, but show that you aren’t just going to go away. Meantime – contact Fair Work Australia for formal advice.

It does sound like time for a new job though. But don’t let this lot push you around – make sure they are doing things properly.

bd84 8:56 pm 12 Jul 10

From the facts presented, it may depend on whether the agreement you had with the previous president to work remotely was a formal agreement (i.e. written into your contract/employment agreement) or if it was an informal verbal agreement. If there was a formal agreement to allow you to work remotely, you could find there is a clause that allows management to change that decision based on the needs of the business. If you have no formal agreement, management’s request for you to work in Canberra will be a valid one, and termination could result if you don’t show up for a few days.

Anyway he’s a terrible boss, so this must be the fault of Workchoices. Oh wait, bosses being dheads to their staff isn’t supposed to happen under a Labor Government. Go to the CT! Quick!

nhand42 6:17 pm 12 Jul 10

Unrelated to your actual question, but telecommuting isn’t a substitute for working onsite.

I have 20 years IT experience under the belt (UNIX), and I have telecommuted before (from AUS to USA), and although telecommuting is a lark it’s not a good value proposition for the employer. They aren’t getting value for money from you unless you’re onsite.

The technical aspect of IT is only a small part of the job. And only some technical bits can you do remotely. The majority of work involves face to face communication. Talking with the clients, learning their problems, understanding their processes and procedures, being involved in planning meetings, business requirement development, etc. It’s also extremely important to present a face that the staff can recognise; daily interaction with your team is 90% of the job.

Phones, e-mail, even video chat, are not good enough. They are 2nd-rate forms of communication. I know some sites around Canberra that use outsourced remote support and it’s rubbish. An onsite person is always better.

Genie 5:01 pm 12 Jul 10

Call up the Fair Work Ombudsmen or go to http://www.fwo.gov.au

They should be able to give you advice. I recently dealt with them over poor working conditions and harassment etc, they were quite helpful.

troll-sniffer 3:46 pm 12 Jul 10

Yeah doesn’t sound good, because unless you had the agreement to work remotely in writing, the employer is probably in the right in this case. Not very nice, but that’s not the issue.

If they do let you go all you can do is ensure your entitlements have been fully paid and hope that they replace you with someone incompetent.

bloodymary 3:43 pm 12 Jul 10

T… the medical profession in Canberra only noticed and treated one out of my two fractures, splinted me incorrectly, causing further injury…

was it more appropriate if you filled a lawsuit against the medical practitioner for malpractice?

neanderthalsis 2:05 pm 12 Jul 10

BG, Did you get an agreement for telecommuting in writing? Even a brief email that shows that the former President agreed would suffice. Secondly, was the hand injury work related?

I would suggest you get your Doctor to write up a treatment plan that details exactly how long you need to be undergoing treatment, forward this to the new El Presidente and say that due to the ongoing treatment, which is only available in some other location, you need to complete the specified treatment, failure to do so may further exascerbate the injury and lead to considerable time off work. If however El Presidente still presses for your return, go back but file a workers compensation claim (based on the advice previously given, El Presidente knew but in essence made you miss treatment for an existing injury).

And I would suggest that you keep a copy of all correspondence regarding the matter.

Aurelius 2:04 pm 12 Jul 10

Even if you’re being screwed over, and even if you’re in the right, clearly the President and probably others have got you in their sights and your position is hanging by a thread.
Time to consider your options, and the easiest is probably seeking employment closer to your new home base.

georgesgenitals 2:04 pm 12 Jul 10

Definitely follow up as above, but at the same time I’d be looking for other employment.

Good luck.

Katietonia 1:49 pm 12 Jul 10

harvyk1 said :

I’d suggest calling Fair Work Australia, but quick word of warning, this probably isn’t an unfair dismissal case…

They need you to do your job in Canberra, thus if your not in Canberra you can’t do your job, and thus if you can’t do your job then they are within their rights to let you go…

Unfair dismissal primarily covers employers letting an employee go because they simply don’t like the person, and in this case they have given you a very reasonable option (aka live in the city where the work is) which will allow you to keep your job.

The rest of the stuff might matter to you, but is irrelivant in this case.

Good luck with everything.

Thought judging everything said, this person is able to do their job and the employer hasn’t been clear on the reasons behind the move back to Canberra other than “it isn’t working”. If they do indeed need more events then it is understandable.

I wish I could work remotely.

hellspice 1:43 pm 12 Jul 10

I guess i would be going with the employer on this one, if they need you in Canberra as a job requirement then that pretty much settles it. Either you can do it or you can’t.

CraigT 1:41 pm 12 Jul 10

I recommend, for the sake of your own pride, that you identify a new potential employer and pursue a job there.
Ideally, find an employer in the same field as the one you are currently in so you can directly compete with your current employer and hopefully perform well enough to raise question marks over your new Director’s “New Broom” approach.

p1 12:54 pm 12 Jul 10

BimboGeek said :

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

Yes there is. I recommend you talk to someone qualified in such a field, but to me it sounds like you may be being screwed over.

Good luck!

harvyk1 12:53 pm 12 Jul 10

I’d suggest calling Fair Work Australia, but quick word of warning, this probably isn’t an unfair dismissal case…

They need you to do your job in Canberra, thus if your not in Canberra you can’t do your job, and thus if you can’t do your job then they are within their rights to let you go…

Unfair dismissal primarily covers employers letting an employee go because they simply don’t like the person, and in this case they have given you a very reasonable option (aka live in the city where the work is) which will allow you to keep your job.

The rest of the stuff might matter to you, but is irrelivant in this case.

Good luck with everything.

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