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Understanding the Extensions in Unfair Dismissal Filings: A Closer Look at a Recent FWC Decision

On January 2024, a vegetation officer at Essential Energy found himself dismissed for allegedly disconnecting satellite antennas on several company vehicles—a charge he vehemently denies. His journey through the complexities of employment tribunal applications sheds light on the often-confusing aspects of the legal process for employees and employers alike.


Understanding the Extensions in Unfair Dismissal Filings: A Closer Look at a Recent FWC Decision
Understanding the Extensions in Unfair Dismissal Filings: A Closer Look at a Recent FWC Decision

The officer initially responded to his dismissal by lodging an unfair dismissal claim with the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC). However, due to a misunderstanding, he inadvertently pivoted to an unlawful termination claim, a move that was less strategic and more indicative of the procedural confusion faced by individuals representing themselves.


When informed by the IRC that he had approached the wrong tribunal, he promptly filed a Form F9 unlawful termination application with the Fair Work Commission (FWC). However, his situation was further complicated when the FWC notified him that such claims could not be pursued against national system employers like Essential Energy. The officer missed this notification initially due to personal commitments, only to correct his course upon receiving a follow-up message.


Despite the mishaps, Commissioner Stephen Crawford extended empathy towards the officer’s predicament. He noted the understandable nature of the initial confusion, especially given the state-owned status of Essential Energy. Commissioner Crawford dismissed the notion that the officer's actions were a calculated attempt to manipulate the system, recognising instead that the officer was genuinely focused on challenging his dismissal without fully grasping the technicalities of different legal jurisdictions.


The officer’s case highlights a series of jurisdictional pivots that led to numerous extensions being granted by the FWC. This contrasted with a 2022 decision where no extension was provided under similar circumstances. However, the current case was deemed unusual due to the sequence of applications filed, reflecting a primary confusion rather than a tactical approach.


Interestingly, while Essential Energy argued that they were prejudiced by the time and expense incurred due to the officer’s filing error, Commissioner Crawford suggested that the corporation could have alerted the officer to the jurisdictional error within the statutory 21-day period instead of preparing a formal response. He downplayed the prejudice suffered by Essential Energy, citing the corporation's vast resources and legal support, which minimised the impact of the additional proceedings.


Ultimately, the commissioner acknowledged the exceptional circumstances surrounding the officer's dual applications within the 21-day period, justifying an extension of time for the unfair dismissal claim to be properly heard.


This case, Damon Anthony Gregson v Essential Energy [2024] FWC 1053, can be fully accessed on [jade.io](https://jade.io), providing an in-depth understanding of the decision and its implications for both employees and employers navigating the complexities of employment law.


For those facing similar challenges, this decision underscores the importance of understanding the correct legal avenues and the potential leniency of tribunals towards genuine mistakes arising from jurisdictional complexities.

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