Even Part Time Employees Must be Aware of Potential Conflicts

De Blasio v Melba Support Services Inc. [2014] FCCA 1893 (22 August 2014)

When an employee works part time for one employer, it is not unreasonable for them to work part time for another. And in so doing, the employee needs to be careful that confidential information, or intellectual property, gained in one workplace, does not find its way into the other. A part time HR manager found this out the hard way in a recent court decision in an adverse action claim.

The manager worked three days a week for an organisation which required her to develop HR policies. The manager also worked for another organisation and she used the work from the first employer for the second employer without the first employer’s knowledge or permission.

The manager’s duplicity was discovered during an investigation into a bullying claim that she had laid against the CEO. The investigator, when going through e-mails, discovered the intellectual property transfer.

The manager was sacked, and she took the first employer to court, alleging she was sacked for making the bullying claim. But the court disagreed, saying the manager’s behaviour, in using the intellectual property without permission, was “wholly inappropriate”. Importantly, as a member of the first employer’s senior management group, the manager had not disclosed her activity with the second employer and none of the other senior managers appeared to be aware of it. The judge also found that the manager profited from the use of the documents.

This case is interesting because it highlights the complexities that can arise with part timers who do two jobs. It also bolsters employers’ demands that such employees disclose their activities and are scrupulous in separating their two employment contracts so no conflict such as arose here occurs.