U r fired (Fire emoji) - How not to dismiss employees

Has your employer fired you over text message? Has your employer made claims about your behaviour, but can’t remember times or dates when said behavior occurred? Has your employer failed to discuss matters with you at all before deciding to fire you? You probably don’t need a lawyer to tell you that this sort of conduct by employers is not only unprofessional, but illegal. If you find yourself in a situation like this you may also be entitled to claim thousands of dollars in compensation.

I think she was doing something bad…..

A recent Employment Relations Authority decision involved the director of a hairdressing company, Mr K, firing an employee, Ms L, over text because he thought he saw her working for a competitor cutting the hair of a man that he could not describe. Surely I’m not the only one who thinks this sounds ridiculous already… Mr K did not approach Ms L at the time to ask what she was doing, he did not start an investigation or disciplinary process, and he did not discuss the matter at all with Ms L or with the competitor.

“I can’t hear you”

At the end of Ms L’s shift on 8 August 2016 Mr K approached her and told her to take her things and leave immediately. Mr K said that she had to take four weeks’ annual holiday immediately while he decided what action to take. Ms L tried to contact Mr K later that evening and on many occasions after this. He never responded to her. In fact on one occasion Ms L asked a mutual friend to phone Mr K on her behalf, however when the phone was passed to her Mr K said “I can’t hear you” and hung up.

Finally on 6 September Ms L received a text simply saying “we do not need you to work for us anymore”.

The Authority had to consider whether Ms L was unjustifiably dismissed. Unsurprisingly, the Authority said that Ms L was not given access to relevant information or an opportunity to comment on the situation before a final decision was made. She was previously unaware that her employment was potentially at risk, until the time when she was told to go home. These failures were considered serious and the procedure by which Ms L was dismissed was unjustified.

Proving the employer wrong

Yet things get worse for Mr K. Ms L was able to provide evidence about when she actually started working at the competing hairdressing company. Ms L had a text from her new employer which confirmed that she was offered employment on 12 September, six days after being dismissed by Mr K. She also produced a bank statement that showed she was first paid by her new employer on 26 September. Because she received her pay fortnightly in arrears it was clear that she had started work for her new employer on 14 September.

Although Ms L had not incurred any lost wages because she obtained a new job almost immediately, the Authority awarded her $8,000 in compensation. Ms L said that the events were devastating to her because she had a 30 year perfect track record in the industry and could not understand why she had been treated so rudely. She also said she experienced embarrassment because she would meet former clients on the street who would ask why she was no longer working for Mr K.

There’s a bit more to it than saying “You’re fired!”

So a message for both employers and employees comes out of this, and it’s actually one of the main things I have learnt so far in my legal career - there are actually a lot of procedures employers need to follow in order dismiss an employee, beyond just saying “you’re fired”.

In case it’s not clear by this point, firing an employee over text is not ok and is probably not going to end well. If you do need more information on dismissal of employees, why not pop in and see us (before sending that text).