Unfair dismissal does not play well on a company’s finances and environment. It could potentially drain your time, cost you your reputation, and ultimately affect your profit if you end up having to pay out an employee.

The best bet you have as an employer is taking advice at a very early stage. There are few ways to reduce the success rate of a successful unfair dismissal claim by an aggrieved employee. Also, in the case of a successful claim, there are few ways to minimize the risk that you are going to be facing as an employer.

The first of these ways is through observance of all the legal processes and obligation as an employer. The Fair Work Act guides the dismissal of an employee – as a small business you can follow the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code.

A break down of the code for dismissal, other than summary dismissal is:

The small business employer must give the employee a reason why he or she is at risk of being dismissed. The reason must be a valid reason based on the employee’s conduct or capacity to do the job.

The employee must be warned verbally or preferably in writing, that he or she risks being dismissed if there is no improvement.

The small business employer must provide the employee with an opportunity to respond to the warning and give the employee a reasonable chance to rectify the problem, having regard to the employee’s response. Rectifying the problem might involve the employer providing additional training and ensuring the employee knows the employer’s job expectations.

As an employer, and taking on board the above, when an employee is not performing up to expectation, the first thing to do is have a discussion with them and let them know that the performance or conduct is not acceptable. This can first be done as a counselling session. If the performance or conduct does not improve then you can have a formal disciplinary meeting and dependent on the responses a warning can be issued. The warning should contain details about the current employee practice and what is expected of such an employee.

The warning should succinctly address all underlying behaviors and recommend improvement. You can also proceed to produce a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) which sets out everything clearly and the time-frames as well as acting as a framework for regular communication. When this is done, you must give that employee time to respond positively.

In the case of fraud, theft or bribery, an employer does not need to provide any warning and can (dependent on each individual circumstances) proceed to summary dismissal.

If you are faced with an unfair dismissal claim, you will have a meeting set up with conciliation meeting. Conciliation is a voluntary process to help an employer and employee resolve an unfair dismissal dispute. It is an informal method of resolving the claim that is generally conducted by telephone and can avoid the need for a formal conference or hearing.

If you choose not to have a conciliation, or you have a conciliation that fails to produce a settlement, the case will automatically go to a hearing or conference unless the employee formally discontinues their application. Fresh HR Insights recommends that you do attend a conciliation meeting and we can support you in this. We can act as your representative.

The potential cost of a successfully played unfair dismissal claim on the part of the employee can be crippling on all fronts. So, therefore, it is advisable to come to a reasonable agreement of settlement and where you can stay outside the courtroom. Although you could win in a courtroom since the chance of winning is 50/50, appearing before a courtroom could end up very costly not just in money but also time and the stress on you personally as a business owner. Better to avoid it entirely.

You need to note – You are under no obligation to agree to a settlement if you don’t want to at the conciliation meeting. It is your right to maintain your position and proceed to a hearing. But it is in your interests to try conciliation as they are often successful, with 4 out of 5 matters settling at this stage. A settlement can avoid the time delays and costs of having a formal hearing.

The best way however to avoid all this all together is to understand the legalities involved. Legalities that you can’t understand if you don’t ask for help. Your call…

 How is a conciliation conducted

Conciliation are usually held by telephone. The conciliator will be in their office at the Commission. The employer and employee can be in any location, provided it is quiet and they will not be disturbed. A conciliation can take around 90 minutes to complete.

The conciliator will call the parties and introduce them into a telephone conference call. Any representatives for either side will also be called if they are not in the room with the employee or employer. This can mean there are as many as 5 different people on the conference call.

The style of each conciliator may vary but, in general, a conciliation will include the following steps:

  • the conciliator explains their role and the manner in which the conciliation is to be run
  • each side briefly outlines their story including what happened, any relevant facts and what they want
  • the conciliator may allow or ask questions
  • the circumstances, and any issues arising, are discussed – the conciliator may talk separately to the parties. While this is happening the party not in the private discussion will be disconnected and called back later. In these private discussions each side is given the opportunity to speak to the conciliator about their situation. The conciliator will discuss with them proposals that might lead to a resolution. The conciliation can continue in private discussions for some time, as the conciliator relays proposals and counter-proposals from one side to the other. This process may help the parties reach an agreed settlement.
  • the conciliator helps the parties to reach agreement by identifying common ground, suggesting possible options and sometimes by making recommendations and helping the parties draft an agreement in writing.

After the private discussions all the parties come back together on a joint conference call. If an agreed settlement has been reached the conciliator will confirm the details with the parties. But if no agreement has been reached the conciliator will explain the next steps in the process, which is going to a formal conference or hearing.

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