Aggressive Assertion of Rights Not the Answer

Short v Ambulance Victoria [2014] FCA 3 (15 January 2014)

After an employee felt aggrieved about missing out on an internal transfer, his aggressive behaviour towards his manager brought about his downfall. And the Federal Court offered him no comfort when he claimed all he had been doing was exercising a workplace right.

The employer had previously had problems with the employee and had sought the assistance of an outside consultant to assess the employee’s complaints about an earlier possible promotion. The consultant reported that the employee was aggressive and bullying and needed to lift his game. This was clearly communicated to the employee and a warning issued. The employer also undertook to work with the employee to see an improvement in his behaviour.

But before the ink was dry on the warning, the employee again abused a superior over the failed transfer, so he was sacked. He took an adverse action claim to the Federal Court but the court made it clear that the employer had not acted contrary to the employee’s rights. The judge said that in his view the employer acted for one reason, and one reason alone, and that was the employee’s unreasonable aggressive behaviour towards his manager and exactly what he had been warned not to do.

This case is another in the area of adverse action which is a very useful guide for employers about this whole area. It is true that the employee has the “right” to defend their position and make vigorous argument to support it, but that right does not override the need for proper courtesies and mutual respect to be part of the exchange. In this matter, the employer was deeply offended and aggrieved by the unprovoked and personal nature of the employee’s attack and the facts are simple – no one has to put up with that sort of behaviour, and that includes the boss.