Ensuring “human dignity” in staff terminations

In a decision last week the Fair Work Commission reinforced their long held view that “communication of the advice of dismissal by electronic means such as email or text message, should generally be avoided”.

As the Commission has made clear in earlier decisions (including decisions by other Commissioners)-

“Unless there is some genuine apprehension of physical violence or geographical impediment, the message of dismissal should be conveyed face to face. To do otherwise is unnecessarily callous. Even in circumstances where text message or other electronic communications are ordinarily used, the advice of termination of employment is a matter of such significance that basic human dignity requires that dismissal be conveyed personally with arrangements for the presence of a support person and documentary confirmation”.

The communication of a termination decision by email has been described by a Commissioner as “unnecessarily callous and plainly harsh” and was a factor in the Commission determining in that decision that “the dismissal of the applicant was harsh, unjust and unreasonable”.   The Commissioner concluding that “the dismissal involved an unnecessarily harsh and unreasonable process including the very unfortunate means by which advice of the dismissal was communicated by email”.

As schools bearing the name of Christ we want to treat everyone within the school community as an image bearer of Christ with respect and dignity.  While in our human frailty we may be tempted to take shortcuts and avoid difficult conflict situations we need to rise above those thoughts.

Decisions like this from the Fair Work Commission remind us that we are dealing with people, not merely “human resources”.