Grim warning: One employee could kill your business
Business owners have revealed how a disgruntled employee almost broke them after she took her case to the Fair Work Commission.
Frame Design owners Eddie Hayes and Colleen Young said the small business fair dismissal code needed to be overhauled because it and the Fair Work Commission (FWC) perversely encouraged businesses to pay rogue staff.
The husband and wife-owned frame shop in Cairns, which includes an artisan cafe and homewares store, told The Courier-Mail the senior employee had worked with the company for about 10 years but was frustrated when, without authorisation, she opened another staff member's digital pay slip.
"The employee (the staff member who compared pay packets) earned considerably more but because of the employee's tax bracket she only took home about $180 more a year," Mr Hayes said.
"This person had good work conditions and an autonomous position and was paid about well above award but was really annoyed."
He said the staff member had progressively become negative, unhappy, would yell at staff and leave work and not come back.
But Ms Young said they still wanted the staff member to stay, counselled the employee but on advice from the Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry gave her a written warning about her behaviour not being within the business's expectations.
Mr Hayes said the written warning angered the former staff member.
"I came into work, and the staff member was out of uniform. I asked why and was told she going for breakfast and had other plans for the day.
"The staff member handed me a resignation letter effective immediately. I asked the person to reconsider the rash decision and offered a clean start. The employee walked."
He said her entitlements were paid, but under the collective agreement, underpinned by the modern award, they were entitled to without hold four weeks' pay because she resigned without notice - which they did.
Twenty days later they received correspondence from her alleging constructive dismissal, whereby an employee alleges they have no real choice but to resign.
The business owners decided they would fight the claims because they did nothing wrong.
"We hear business owners and workers talk about going away money like it's part of the cost of doing business today. This is a very concerning trend,'' Mr Hayes said.
FWC concluded that mediation had failed and referred the case to the court. The former staff member never took the matter to court.
Mr Hayes said they felt pressured throughout the process to cough up money to make the matter go away.
Claims filed in the FWC commonly go through a dispute resolution process such as mediation.
By law, The Courier-Mail cannot reveal what occurs during a dispute resolution process.
But the parties commonly put settlement offers to each other, which may include an ambit claim for money.
"We were always going to fight it because we knew we had done nothing wrong," Mr Hayes said.
"We have a very positive work environment at Frame and a happy crew; we always support our team of 14 to ensure they enjoy coming to work every day.
"The stress. We thought (if it was appealed) it could break us. It took me away from the business for about two months because I had to go back over records and get the information, take advice and prepare to defend ourselves."
"So often the matter ends unfairly for the employer through veiled threats of more significant consequences, more proceedings and the feeling that one is coerced to make it go away,'' Mr Hayes said.
"It appears Fair Work have left themselves open to exploitation; this is so counter-productive and utterly wrong."