Text message sacking prompts legal warning

Employers are being warned to act with caution when dismissing staff after an employee was awarded almost $10,000 in compensation after being sacked via text message.


NSW retail worker Sedina Sokolovic was sacked via text message after her boss complained she had swapped shifts without permission and was late for work.


The text message read: “You can pick up your pay tomorrow and drop the key. You don’t need to call me and I don’t see that we can work together.”


Sokolovic, who had worked at Modestie Boutique for two years, was awarded $9,992 after Fair Work Australia ruled her text message sacking was harsh, unjust and unreasonable.


“If dismissal is implemented by any means other than face-to-face communication, both the legal and ethical basis for the decision to dismiss is likely to face strong and successful challenge,” Commissioner Ian Cambridge said.


Law professor Andrew Stewart says he cannot recall any case where firing by text has reached the tribunal, but it is likely to have been something that casual staff may have experienced.


“We should be careful not to conclude it would be unfair [dismissal] merely because a person is sacked by text. But it’s certainly not a practice that would be recommended from the standpoint of good management,” he says.


Industrial relations lawyer Peter Vitale says text messages should be viewed with caution, and are not considered appropriate where communication between the employer and an employee has some gravity in it.


Vitale says while he has heard of instances where employees have been sacked via text, it’s something best avoided.


“All small businesses should be aware that they have basic responsibilities to afford procedural fairness to any employee,” Vitale says.


“When you’re talking about engaging in disciplinary action, it is always preferable to meet employees face-to-face where that’s possible.”


In the case of Sokolovic, Vitale says she didn’t have the opportunity to face her employer and discuss the reasons for her termination.


“The commissioner decided that there wasn’t a sufficient reason for her to be terminated, but it was also significant that the text message constituted the only process, the only attempt to engage in procedural fairness,” he says.


Vitale says while in some instances it might be appropriate to sack somebody via text – such as serious misconduct or breach of workplace safety, or where the employer has genuine concern for their own safety because of violence, drugs and alcohol usage – this was not the case in this instance.


“It was a pretty gutless way for the employer to approach the situation,” he says.


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