Does a loss of temper justify losing your job? In one particular matter, the FWA referred to an old case which decided that “a single outbreak of bad temper, in company … with regrettable language” was not in itself a sufficient ground for dismissal. However, FWA decided the following:
“While an isolated outburst might be understandable in certain circumstances , it must be emphasised that employees should not, as a general rule, get angry and aggressive about problems in the work place; let alone confront other employees about their own problems….the applicant had a simple and longstanding practice to adopt – contact the duty manager. It was not for her to berate and abuse a fellow employee“.
The worker sued their employer, a registered club, for an unjust dismissal. The dismissal related to repeated loud and abusive comments to other members of staff, within the hearing of club patrons, when they arrived at work. She apparently was unhappy with the condition in which her workplace had been left by a previous shift.
The dismissed worker lost her case because a number of independent witnesses confirmed her loud and abusive behaviour. The FWA also described as “a truly breathtaking record” showing an “appalling litany of warnings and counselling” (at least 18 warnings) over many years. This included two written warnings in the year prior to the final incident. The worker objected to these prior warnings being taken into account, because she did not accept the basis for them and had not signed the written warnings. However, the FWA held that against such an appalling background, she had to prove that the various warnings were substantially unjustified, not just assert it.
She tried to make the point that by giving so many warnings, but not taking any action previously, the company had effectively condoned her conduct, and couldn’t complain now. She said that she should have been given a final warning. The FWA rejected that, saying that warnings must mean something to have any practical effect, and to deter others. Requiring another warning would have undermined the club’s disciplinary process. The conclusion was that the termination was justified.
She also criticised the process by which she was terminated. She had been told of the issues although it was not in writing, and had two representatives with her at the termination meeting. The FWA did not agree with this argument either.
Employers should be wary of terminating employment because of an isolated incident of bad temper (depending on the circumstances of course), particularly if the employee apologises promptly and appropriately.
Employers are also entitled to be assertive about disciplinary processes where there are repeated infringements. They need to apply those processes in order for the disciplinary process to have respect and credibility.