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Employee sacked while on sick leave wins compensation

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
A recent case in the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia (‘the Court’) has found than an employer unfairly dismissed an employee while she was on sick leave.

As the employee’s salary was over the unfair dismissal threshold of $118,100, the employee commenced proceedings under s 352 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (‘the Act’). This section prohibits an employer from dismissing an employee for being “temporarily absent from work due to illness or injury” of a type allowed pursuant the Act. An acceptable illness or injury is that which can be proven by evidence, such as a medical certificate.

The employee had fallen ill and had taken sick leave in compliance with the terms of her employment contract and notified the employer that she would be taking a week of sick leave, and would produce a medical certificate at her first available opportunity. Two days into her sick leave, and before she was able to do provide a medical certificate, the employer summarily dismissed her. Among other reasons, the termination letter stated that the employee “had failed” to keep the employer aware of their “absences”.

The employer had also refused to provide one month’s written notice as required in the employment contract, alleging that the employee had engaged in either “serious misconduct or wilful neglect”, or another act capable of allowing termination under the employment contract the action of dismissing the employee was unrelated to the employee’s lawful sick leave, or that the conduct of the employee amounted to valid reasons to summarily terminate her employment. Federal Magistrate Smith said that the employer’s “decision was poorly thought through” and the act of summary dismissal itself was “devoid of objective reasonableness and fairness” to the employee.

The Court ordered the employer be fined $20,000, pay compensation to the employee of more than $37,000 and cover the employee’s legal costs of $57,000.

For advice on sick leave provisions or termination of employment contact Nick Stevens or Liza Isho.

Author: Nick Stevens, Principal, Stevens & Associates Lawyers, an AIIA.biz expert and one of the Panel of Expert Bloggers.

This article provides general information only. It is not legal advice, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Specific advice should be sought to take into account your particular circumstances. Stevens & Associates Lawyers is a boutique industrial relations and employment law firm. It has liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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