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Leaking confidential information costs RSPCA manager his job

The Fair Work Commission has dismissed an employee’s application for unfair dismissal after the employee provided confidential documents belonging to his employer to his union and to a journalist. The employee was also found to have made disparaging remarks about the CEO of the organisation to other employees.

As a result of the employee leaking of these documents, a major newspaper ran an article which caused damage to the reputation of the employer and the CEO.

Commissioner Deegan rejected the employee’s argument that his decision to provide the confidential information to the union and the journalist was justified. The Commissioner ruled that ‘the [employee’s] motive for providing confidential documents to the union and the journalist were part of a deliberate attempt by him to undermine the position of the CEO’.

The Commission also found that whilst the employer tried to calm its workplace, the employee was ‘actively fomenting dissent and continuing his bid to undermine the CEO’.

The Commissioner held that the combination of this conduct established a valid reason for the employee’s dismissal.

The Commissioner also took into account the nature of the employee’s role within the organisation as a senior manager, and noted that given the conduct of the manager ‘…it is unlikely that the relationship between the [employer] and the [employee] could ever be restored, given that his misconduct occurred at the very time the [employer] had commenced investigating his concerns in the face of his repeated assurances that he would maintain confidentiality…”.

Key point: A valid reason to terminate an employee’s employment must be sound, well founded and not capricious.  In this case, the employee’s actions in leaking confidential information coupled with his motive for doing so, resulted in the Fair Work Commission finding that there was a valid reason.

Lisa Aitken is an accredited specialist in workplace relations law and the principal of Aitken Legal, a law firm specialising in employment law for employers. www.aitkenlegal.com.au. The information in this column is intended as a guide only.  Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

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