HR manager failed to follow “basics” of profession’s rule book: Court

An experienced HR manager failed to do any of the “basic things” expected of his profession when he seized on the first opportunity to sack a worker threatening to take bullying and harassment claims to “Fair Work”, a court has found.

Finding Cameron Blewett, the HR manager for ready-made pizza manufacturers Bervar, accessorily liable for the employer’s adverse action against the full-time production worker, Federal Circuit and Family Court Judge Karl Blake described an “utterly surprising” sequence of events leading up to the dismissal on 6 May 2022.

After steadily progressing at the company, which trades as Della Rosa Fresh Foods, over almost five years, the worker clashed with her manager and a colleague over changed responsibilities and requests to do overtime as pandemic pressures built on the business.

Following an early morning performance management meeting with Bervar’s production manager and HR manager, the worker left mid-shift.

When the HR manager later that day called her mobile phone, she passed him over to her husband, who complained that she had come home upset, had been bullied and harassed and that they would be taking the matter to “Fair Work”.

Finding that he did not need to determine differing accounts as to whether the worker’s husband told the HR manager that his wife would not be returning to work, Judge Blake said it did not alter his conclusion that rather than having resigned, the worker was within hours dismissed on the employer’s initiative.

Explaining his reasoning, the judge said it was “unsurprising” that under the employment contract between Bervar and the worker they were the only ones able to terminate it.

“The question that then arises is whether [the worker’s husband] was authorised to terminate the contract of employment on behalf of [the worker],” he continued.

“There is no evidence before the Court of any written authority under which [she] conferred authority on [her husband] to terminate the contract on her behalf.

[[The HR manager’s] evidence is that he ‘assumed’ [the husband] had the authority to speak on behalf of [the worker].

“Asked in the witness box why he made that assumption, [the HR manager] stated ‘Because [the worker], when I introduced myself, told me that I had to speak to her husband, so I reasonably believed that, you know, whatever he said, that she agreed with’.”

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This article has been prepared for information purposes only and is not legal advice. For legal advice regarding your specific circumstances, please contact Workplace Resolutions Law directly on (03) 5499 6131 or by email at admin@wrlaw.com.au

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