Fight over USB stick leads to failed unfair dismissal claim

The Fair Work Commission has rejected an employee’s claim she was pushed down stairs after a fight over a USB stick and unfairly dismissed.

Kaoussar Abbouchi worked for Holistic Dental and had an argument with her manager, Badrish Krishna, over leave issues and her resignation.

Abbouchi claimed during an argument involving the use and return of a USB stick her manager elbowed her on a staircase and pushed her down the stairs.

The USB stick contained patient information, work related information and personal information.

But the Fair Work Commission found the evidence did not support Abbouchi’s claim she had been pushed down stairs and was consequently forced to resign from an unsafe workplace.

The Commission found Abbouchi’s case lacked substance.

“Ms Abbouchi grabbed for the USB stick and either Dr Krishna shrugged her off and moved away from her and she lost her balance and fell down the stairs or Dr Krishna moved away from her and she lost her balance and fell down the stairs,” deputy president Gooley found.

“In neither situation did Dr Krishna physically assault her or cause her to fall down the stairs. Her fall down the stairs was an accident caused by her attempt to retrieve the USB stick.”

The FWC also found Holistic Dental’s communications with Abbouchi following the argument did not demonstrate an unwillingness to respond to her concerns.

Eugene Loh, practice manager at Holistic Dental, told SmartCompany Abbouchi complained to the police, the Dental Board of Australia and WorkCover along with the claim to Fair Work.

“As the employer we did everything we could,” Loh says.

“We tried to help her, we offered for her to come back to work.”

Loh says Abbouchi was given legal advice that she could get a maximum of 26 weeks’ pay and so she refused to accept anything less than that.

Because of this Holistic Dental was unable to settle the case and had to go all the way to the Fair Work Commission.

“This unfair dismissal has cost both parties a lot of money,” Loh says.

He says it has mainly cost Abbouchi her time but for Holistic Dental the legal fees alone have been around $20,000, not counting management time spent on the dispute which stretched over eight months.

Loh recommends other businesses avoid a Fair Work Commission hearing if possible.

“Try to settle out of court or before it gets there is best,” he says.

“We went to three conciliations beforehand but the employee did not want to settle it at all.”

Loh says Holistic Dental is now going to buy insurance with EmploySure so it does not have to contest any future cases without support.

SmartCompany was unable to contact Abbouchi prior to publication.

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