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Understanding Procedural Fairness in Unfair Dismissal: A Reflection on a Recent FWC Decision

In a recent decision by the Fair Work Commission (FWC), a notable case of unfair dismissal was examined, shedding light on the intricacies of procedural fairness in the workplace. The case, Skei Batton v The Environment Centre NT Inc [2024] FWC 597, available in full at, offers a rich discourse on the role of procedural fairness in cases of unfair dismissal.

Understanding Procedural Fairness in Unfair Dismissal: A Reflection on a Recent FWC Decision
Understanding Procedural Fairness in Unfair Dismissal: A Reflection on a Recent FWC Decision

The case revolves around a finance manager at a small not-for-profit organisation, the Environment Centre NT Inc (ECNT), who was dismissed for misconduct and poor performance during a critical audit period. Despite the seemingly clear grounds for dismissal, the FWC found the process fundamentally flawed, primarily due to the lack of an impartial decision-maker. The finance manager, a single mother and a survivor of domestic violence, found herself unfairly dismissed when the executive director of ECNT, also a lawyer, oversaw both the investigation and the decision-making process.

This led Commissioner Bernie Riordan to criticise the organisation for its approach, noting that someone independent from the case should have conducted the investigation or, at least, the board should have made the decision regarding the finance manager's employment. The executive director’s dual role as both judge and executioner rendered the dismissal procedurally unfair.

The importance of procedural fairness cannot be overstated, and this case serves as a poignant reminder of its role in unfair dismissal proceedings. The ECNT's decision to handle the disciplinary process internally without third-party oversight was a critical error, particularly in a small business environment where impartiality is challenging to maintain. The FWC’s ruling highlights that adhering to the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code does not exempt an employer from their obligations to ensure procedural fairness.

In this case, the finance manager was found to have been unfairly dismissed despite the valid reasons the ECNT might have had for her termination. Her reaction to a request from a colleague was deemed overly emotional and disrespectful, and her conduct at a sub-committee meeting was unprofessional. However, these actions, while problematic, were met with a process that failed to afford her a fair go, a cornerstone of Australian employment rights.

The FWC's decision to award the finance manager $12,000 in compensation, despite her conduct, underscores the importance of procedural fairness in the context of unfair dismissal. The commissioner took into account her personal circumstances and the overwhelming nature of the tasks she was assigned, which she felt unprepared to handle.

This consideration is crucial in understanding the human aspect behind unfair dismissal cases.

This case of unfair dismissal serves as an educational cornerstone for both employers and employees. It illustrates the necessity for a fair and impartial disciplinary process, especially in settings where the boundaries between management and staff are inherently close. For organisations, the takeaway is clear: ensure procedural fairness at all stages of the disciplinary process to avoid the ramifications of an unfair dismissal finding.

In conclusion, unfair dismissal is a significant concern in the employment landscape, and procedural fairness is its critical counterbalance.

The case of Skei Batton v The Environment Centre NT Inc serves as a compelling reminder of the complexities surrounding unfair dismissals and the essential nature of maintaining fairness and impartiality in all employment proceedings. For further details, the full decision is available for reading on, providing invaluable insights into the nuances of unfair dismissal and procedural fairness.

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