Last week, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) rejected an unfair dismissal claim made by an employee of Strata Management Group Pty Ltd (Strata Group). The FWC determined that the employee's unauthorised remote work, combined with two other allegations, constituted a valid reason for her termination.
Chantelle Major was initially employed by Strata Group in a Senior Strata Manager role with flexible working from home arrangements. In late 2022, she moved into a Business Development Associate role, coinciding with her relocation to the Sunshine Coast. This role required her to work in the Brisbane office one day a week and the Sunshine Coast office four days a week.
Whilst undergoing training in her new role (a period of 12 to 18 months), Ms Major was required to request any flexible work arrangements for consideration by the company’s HR Department. Ms Major did not follow this procedure during her employment.
In March 2023, Strata Group became aware that the Sunshine Coast office had not been used since 24 February, for a period of approximately three weeks. The Managing Director attended the office and discovered an open notebook with a page titled “24/2/23 Things to Do”. Ms Major was nowhere to be found.
On 21 March 2023, Strata Group wrote to Ms Major seeking her response to allegations she had:
- forwarded private internal emails to her personal email address and deleted the sent emails – including from the deleted items folder – in an attempt to conceal her actions;
- not attended the Sunshine Coast office during normal business hours since the date written in her notebook (relying on data obtained from her work mobile phone and the building’s access records); and
- during work hours, left the office after lunch and not returned to the office for the remainder of the working day, instead working from home.
After considering Ms Major’s response, Strata Management terminated her employment for dishonest conduct in breach of her contract. The termination letter stated her conduct had “damaged their trust and confidence in her ability to perform her duties” and referred to Ms Major’s “direct contravention of the directions “that you attend work at the Sunshine Coast office during your designated work hours, and the agreed working arrangements made between you and SMG regarding work from home.”
The FWC ultimately held that:
- Ms Major failed to comply with Strata Group’s lawful and reasonable directions to work from the Brisbane and Sunshine Coast offices.
- Ms Major was not entitled to work from home between the dates of 24 February and 13 March; and
- the allegations together provided a valid reason for dismissal.
The FWC also held that despite Strata Group not providing Ms Major with copies of the emails allegedly forwarded to her personal email address and subsequently deleted, she was given a reasonable opportunity to respond to the allegations through the show cause process.
This case highlights the importance of maintaining clear policies about flexible working arrangements (and requests for same) and ensuring that employees are given sufficient information about allegations of misconduct to enable them to respond accordingly.
The FWC’s decision in its entirety can be accessed at this link.
How can we help?
If you have concerns about employees requesting flexible work arrangements or properly implementing and managing your organisation’s flexible work policy, please contact our experienced Employment and Workplace Law team for assistance.