Most of us know the behaviours we should avoid at work. But it’s not always clear which kinds of behaviour could actually result in us being fired.
We asked managing director Alan McDonald from employment law firm McDonald Murholme to explain the behaviours that can end up in dismissal.
Here’s what you should know.
Risk to the business
Causing damage to a business might seem like an obvious reason for dismissal. But creating risk of damage can also be a reason for dismissal – though a rare one. It’s all to do with the definition of ‘serious misconduct’ in the Fair Work Act.
“Most people are aware they can be dismissed for serious misconduct, but few people know that serious misconduct can include creating a risk of damage to the employer’s business, rather than any actual damage caused,” McDonald says.
“Creating a risk to an employer’s business viability can arise from damage to reputation, profitability and even risk to the health of the business owner – and that’s especially relevant now with COVID-19.”
Failing to comply with your organisation’s policies
Breaking company rules such as social media policies can lead to termination of employment. “You should be cautious when posting on social media,” McDonald says.
“In a highly digital society, employees should think twice before posting about their employer or co-workers on social media, as there are better ways to highlight problems.”
Using insulting language
Bad or insulting language doesn’t automatically justify dismissal, but McDonald says now more than ever, there is a recognition of the importance of people’s feelings. “Sharing or shouting abuse, even out of frustration, can hurt people’s feelings and lead to dismissal of even the best worker,” he says.
Divulging information about the business
We live in a highly competitive business world, and the intellectual property and confidential information that organisations keep can be vital to their success. “Where an employee divulges even small parts of that information can lead to dismissal, due to the potential damage to the business,” McDonald says.
It probably goes without saying, but lying, taking advantage of company perks such as a work vehicle or credit card, and theft may justify dismissal without notice. “It’s often said that the cover-up can have a worse consequence than the crime itself,” McDonald says.
“If you are accused of making a mistake it’s essential that you explain yourself well and don’t take a short-cut by making a dishonest response. You should take a support person who is well informed to any allegations meetings and secure advice before responding to any allegations.”
Accepting a gift doesn’t necessarily justify being dismissed. But McDonald warns if there’s a clear policy prohibiting employees receiving gifts and you’ve received training on the policy, it can be used as a reason to dismiss you.
“If you have been offered a gift and are unsure whether your employer has a policy prohibiting receiving gifts, your first point of contact should be your human resources representative,” McDonald says. “It is highly likely such a policy is in place if you are employed by a government agency.”
Lying on your job application
It’s important to make the most of the skills and experience you can offer when you’re going for a role. But actually lying about something that’s an important part of the job could land you in trouble later.
“From time to time, people applying for a job will exaggerate their work experience or credentials,” McDonald says. “You must be careful with what you say during the recruitment process as tribunals will support an employer’s decision to dismiss you if the misleading conduct is deliberate and material to your role.”
Dress code violations
“Refusal to comply with your employer’s lawful and reasonable policies about wearing a uniform or adhering to specified dress standards may result in disciplinary action and even dismissal,” McDonald says.
“This is especially true if you have received multiple warnings regarding the same issue and have been put on notice.”
If you think your dismissal is unfair
While there are many behaviours that can justify being fired, your dismissal may be found to be harsh, unjust or unreasonable, especially if your employer hasn’t notified you about the reason for the dismissal or if you believe you’ve been dismissed for a prohibited reason.
If you’re concerned that your dismissal may be unfair you should seek help, such as through your union, the Fair Work Ombudsman or through legal advice.
‘8 things you didn’t know you could be fired for’, Seek, March 2021