• Helen

Bad Secretary Cries Wolf

Whilst Optus continues to defend the allegation that their coverage of the World Cup is actually fine and that it’s just the players that are slow, being falsely accused at work of bullying and harassment can be one of the most demoralising and confronting things you will ever face. It’s surprisingly not that uncommon.

Cruel Intentions A legal secretary (Ms H) who made claims of conspiracy and bullying against a cast of thousands (many of them lawyers) at her former workplace, found herself terminated for serious misconduct on account of them being false. Her claims were many, however some of them were that she had been called a “chook” from a senior lawyer of the firm, that she had been called “thick” and an “evil girl” by a partner and that the Managing Partner of the firm had disparaged her and her family when he had never met them and knew nothing about them. She also attended a lawyer’s office for a meeting and alleged that the lawyer purposely left copies of the Law Society Journal on their desk to unsettle her during the meeting. Ms H called the journals “satirical paraphernalia”. If anyone had dared, some may have called this mere paranoia. After an internal investigation satisfied the firm that there was no substance to the allegations and that on the balance of probabilities they were most likely made up, Ms H was called in to show cause as to why she shouldn’t be terminated. Her breathtaking response was that if there were no witnesses to her alleged conduct, that the firm could not prove she made up the allegations. Lo and behold, a new tranch of bullying allegations were made at that meeting by Ms H. The Architect of her Own Demise The Commission found that her allegations were absurd and implausible and that the timing of raising new complaints when she realised her job was in jeopardy was more than coincidental. It was also found that false bullying allegations will ordinarily give rise to a valid reason to terminate for serious misconduct. In this case, the firm had thoroughly investigated her complaints, conducted three meetings with the applicant to provide her opportunities to respond and made it very clear that termination was being considered once it determined that “on the balance of probabilities” she had falsified the complaints. Ms H showed no contrition or regret for her conduct and it was established that the employer had every reason to consider that the continuation of her employment was untenable. Suffice to say, she was as successful in her unfair dismissal claim as Optus were trying to convince their subscribers that the jumpy coverage was just the players diving across the field. Linda Hanrick v Meridian Lawyers - FWC 3256 (5 June 2018)

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