Dismissal: office gossip – valid reason

Kym Suzanne Reedy v Global Cranes Pty Ltd [2011] FWA 3037

Deputy President Hamilton considered the applicant’s innuendo as to an office affair justified her dismissal as a breach of trust. It was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable and constituted a valid reason:

[8] The term ‘valid reason’ was considered by Northrop J in Selvachandran v. Petron Plastics Pty Ltd 4 . He said:

“Section 170DE(1) refers to a `valid reason, or valid reasons’, but the Act does not give a meaning to those phrases or the adjective `valid’. A reference to dictionaries shows that the word `valid’ has a number of different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. In the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, the relevant meaning given is” `2. Of an argument, assertion, objection, etc; well founded and applicable, sound, defensible: Effective, having some force, pertinency, or value.’ In the Macquarie Dictionary the relevant meaning is `sound, just or well founded; a valid reason.’

In its context in s 170DE(1), the adjective `valid’ should be given the meaning of sound, defensible or well founded. A reason which is capricious, fanciful, spiteful or prejudiced could never be a valid reason for the purposes of s170DE(1). At the same time the reason must be valid in the context of the employee’s capacity or conduct or based upon the operational requirements of the employer’s business. Further, in considering whether a reason is valid, it must be remembered that the requirement applies in the practical sphere of the relationship between an employer and an employee where each has rights and privileges and duties and obligations conferred and imposed on them. the provisions must `be applied in a practical, commonsense way to ensure that’ the employer and employee are each treated fairly, see what was said by Wilcox CJ in Gibson v Bosmac Pty Ltd (1995) 60 IR 1, when considering the construction and application of a s170DC.”

[17] Mrs.Reedy’s deliberate attempt on 20 December to upset Mr.Vidaic’s fiancée, and therefore the fiancee’s relationship with Mrs.Reedy’s employer, is not consistent with an ongoing working relationship under the contract of employment with Mr.Vidaic. Mr.Vidaic had the right to expect a degree of loyalty and cooperation from Mrs.Reedy. Mrs.Reedy instead acted to cause serious trouble for him in the business by engaging in a course of conduct which could only have been intended to seriously disrupt his private and workplace relationships. It would be grossly unreasonable to expect an employer to work with, to trust and rely upon, an employee in these circumstances. This constitutes a valid reason for termination of employment.

[24] The termination of Mrs.Reedy’s employment was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable. She was afforded a fair go all round. An order dismissing the application is published with my decision, in PR510749.

Brisbane Barrister – David Cormack


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