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HR Consultant's Poor Advice Leads to Unfair Dismissal, Says Fair Work Commission

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has criticised a human resources (HR) consultant for providing "astonishingly poor" advice that led to the unfair dismissal of a long-serving manager. This case highlights significant missteps in the redundancy process and underscores the importance of sound HR practices.

After 14 years with Sydney-based construction software provider Companion Systems Pty Limited, a platform experience manager who had recently relocated to the Gold Coast was asked to meet an HR consultant in June last year. During this meeting, the consultant informed the manager of an operational review and offered a $5000 payment for a voluntary redundancy. When the manager suggested a pay cut instead, he was told he was "a cost-cutting exercise."

HR Consultant's Poor Advice Leads to Unfair Dismissal, Says Fair Work Commission
HR Consultant's Poor Advice Leads to Unfair Dismissal, Says Fair Work Commission

Following this initial meeting, the manager faced difficulties getting answers from the company’s general manager and owner, who was also his father's cousin. Tensions were high, exacerbated by family disagreements over COVID-19 lockdowns and remote work.

At a subsequent meeting, the manager was informed of his redundancy on the condition that he returned company property. He returned the laptop after resetting it to factory settings but requested additional time to transfer contacts from his company phone.

The situation escalated when the HR consultant sent an email stating that the manager could be summarily dismissed if the phone was not returned by a specific deadline. Despite sending the phone by registered post and providing a tracking number, the manager was accused of emailing malware and erasing company data.

Commissioner Jennifer Hunt found that Companion Systems' claim of consulting staff during the operational review was untrue, as no other employees had meetings with the HR consultant. She criticised the decision to conduct a critical meeting in a local café and described the company's handling of the manager's redundancy as "callous and unprofessional."

The commissioner noted that resetting the laptop to factory settings was not malicious and could be easily rectified by the company. She condemned the HR consultant's email demanding immediate return of company property as "incredibly disturbing" and one of the most bizarre things she had read.

Commissioner Hunt highlighted the negative impact of the HR consultant's poor advice on the company's procedures. She also condemned the consultant's attempt to conduct a reference check with the manager's new employer without his permission.

In conclusion, the FWC ordered Companion Systems to pay the manager $34,660 plus superannuation for unfair dismissal. This case serves as a stark reminder of the need for ethical and professional HR practices, particularly during sensitive processes like redundancies.

The FWC's decision underscores the importance of clear, compassionate communication and proper procedures in managing redundancies. Employers must ensure their HR consultants provide sound advice and act professionally to avoid legal repercussions and damage to their reputation.

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