5 ways to stop unfair dismissal claims

Franchisors spend a great deal of time working on their relationships with franchisees and structuring the business to avoid disputes. But what about the employees? Unfair dismissal is the main reason employees make a formal claim against their employers, and of these claims, nearly a quarter centre around serious misconduct (12 percent) or misconduct (12 percent).

These figures have just been released by Australian employment relations specialist, Employsure, and show that over a third of 990 calls made to the firm between February 2014 and May 2015 were from employers contacting it for the first time, to seek advice on unfair dismissal.

In 2014, 17,806 unfair dismissal claims were lodged by employees with the Fair Work Commission, the highest number of annual claims ever recorded. The figure equates to 70 claims a day.

Edward Mallet, managing director of Employsure, says, “Disputes between employers and their staff occur when an employee’s conduct is called into question, but they feel wrongly accused. This is a difficult situation, and usually the employer has no official guidelines on conduct in place. They then call a service like ours to explore their rights and obligations.”

“There is no doubt this is a major issue for employers,” Mallett says. “Unfair dismissal was brought about to protect employees from unjust employers, however the number of claims has blown out. The actual figure is considerably higher as not all claims are taken to the Commission, some are settled internally by the company concerned. Because it is such a prevalent issue, employers need to ensure they have robust policies in place to be clear and equitable in these matters.”

Top five tips to avoid employee disputes

Edward Mallett suggests these five ways to steer your business clear of unnecessary disputes with staff:

1. Have clear descriptions of unacceptable behaviour 

Employers need to train staff on good conduct and include clear descriptions of unacceptable behaviour in employee handbooks. This can cover every aspect of employee functions from absenteeism, sick leave, performance and, most importantly, conduct.

2. Don’t keep policies in a drawer

When you have gone to the time and trouble to craft workplace policies, make sure your staff know about them. Consider introducing a written or computer test and set the pass mark high to make sure employees have read and understood policies.

3. Consistency is key 

Ensure all disputes are dealt with consistently. Adhere to your own policies and procedures to the letter, in every case. Don’t make allowances for some staff members or come down hard on other employees. Consistently addressing conduct issues will help your employees to perceive what is appropriate workplace behaviour and what is not.

4. Have meetings before the situation gets out of hand

If an employee is stepping out of your defined code of conduct, you are within your rights to schedule a disciplinary meeting to clearly outline the employee’s unacceptable behaviour. Following this meeting, you may be justified in issuing a formal, written warning. If the misconduct is repeated or it constitutes serious misconduct, this could ultimately justify dismissal.

5. Get the best advice 

Employers often don’t know how to manage employees effectively and deal with claims by their employees. Get expert advice to develop solid employee contracts, workplace policies and performance management programs to put you in the best position possible. Use your adviser to gain knowledge of your rights and obligations as an employer.