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Significant breach of policy used to justify termination

June 26, 2017

by Sid Sidhu and Angela Szczepanski, NRA Legal

Teresa Margaret Murphy v Banana Coast Community Credit Union Ltd T/A BCU [2017] FWC 2688

An employee who worked as a store supervisor for Banana Coast Community Credit Union (BCU) has had her application for relief from unfair dismissal, dismissed by the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

The facts of this case were such that it was an express term of Ms Murphy’s contract that she read and comply with the employer’s policies and procedures. More specifically, it was a requirement of the Deceased Member Policy, that appropriate documentation be obtained or witnessed by employees. This was reiterated in a checklist to be used by employees as a tool for achieving compliance.

On 12 December 2016, Ms Murphy acted in breach of this policy by releasing funds without witnessing or obtaining a certified copy of probate. Although not intentional, her conduct constituted a substantial breach of a lawful and reasonable policy and in the eyes of the Commission, gave the employer a valid reason for dismissal.

Four days later, the employee was invited to a meeting and provided with an opportunity to respond to the allegations. BCU reviewed and considered the employee’s responses over the next six days, before informing her in a second meeting of their decision to terminate.

However, the employee argued that she was not made fully aware of her obligations or that a breach of the policy may result in termination of her employment. As such, Ms Murphy contended that the employer had failed to take adequate steps to educate their workforce on the company’s policies and procedures.

The FWC accepted that no training was provided by BCU, but attributed limited weight to this consideration given that the obligations contained in the policy were clear and unambiguous. Additionally, the employee did not communicate that she was confused or uncertain about the obligation to obtain a certified copy of probate. According to Commissioner Saunders, Ms Murphy should have asked for support if she required it, given the risk of financial loss exposed to the company as a result of her breach.

The full decision can be found here.

What does this mean for your business? 

This case demonstrates how breaches of policies and procedures may result in termination of employment. In all circumstances, procedural fairness remains an essential requirement to avoid unfair dismissal claims.

However, training on policies is not strictly necessary, although strongly advised as a matter of best practice. If you are considering implementing a policy into your workplace or would like further information on unfair dismissals, call the NRA today on 1800 RETAIL (1800 738 245).




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