Sacking Staff by SMS? It Won’t End Happily

Breaking up by SMS is generally considered a cowardly act. But what people do in their private lives is a far cry from what they do in the public arena of employment – and sacking staff by SMS is really not a smart way to go.

Recent cases of ‘sacking by text’ suggest that employers should think twice before hitting the send button on their mobile phone, yet unfortunately this type of conduct appears to be on the rise.

An employee made a successful general protections claim on the basis of such circumstances.

OC (not her real initials) was employed as a permanent full-time senior member of staff and was soon due to commence maternity leave. There had been no performance issues during OC’s employment, and there were no signs of any down-turn in the business – indeed the company had just hired a new employee.

OC asked for a minor reduction in her hours, particularly on her longest day, because she was getting very tired working on her feet all day.

Shortly after making this request, OC was called into a meeting with her employer and was told she had to become a casual and work significantly less hours per week, because business was bad.

OC immediately disputed the changes, and was told that a letter about her new employment conditions would be waiting at work. When she went to collect it, the manager would not speak to her and a third party (not an employee) had to give OC the envelope. Unsurprisingly, she left work immediately in a state of shock, and two days later was sacked by text message.

OC made a general protections application to the Fair Work Commission, and received a considerable lump sum from her former employer by way of settlement.

In a similar case, the Fair Work Commission (‘FWC’) made a ruling against an employer for firing staff by text, fining the business almost $10,000 after the Commission ruled the sacking by text was harsh, unreasonable and unjust.

The Commission found there were no reasons given in the text, or during the later hearing, that included any allegations of “serious misconduct” justifying an instant dismissal.

The FWC Commissioner even added that the text sacking showed a “lack of courage”.

The message from these cases is that firing staff by SMS message is completely inappropriate, and unlikely to end happily for the boss who decides to take what seems to be, but is not, the easy way out.

Contact our Specialist Employment & Workplace Relations Team for more information.