In Concannon v Portland District Health  FWC 513, the Fair Work Commission was asked to consider whether a chief executive’s involvement in human resources matters forced an HR Manager’s resignation.
Portland District Health employed Mr Concannon as an HR Manager in March 2013. During that time, the chief executive, Ms Giles, made a number of human resources decisions without Mr Concannon’s involvement.
Mr Concannon felt that the involvement of Ms Giles undermined his position, and compromised the integrity and professionalism of the HR department. His argument was that his role was autonomous, and that he had sole authority for human resources decisions. He resigned on 8 July 2014, citing frustration of his contract.
Mr Concannon subsequently lodged an unfair dismissal application with the Fair Work Commission and the matter was listed for a jurisdictional hearing to determine whether the employee had been forced to resign (and accordingly “dismissed” within the meaning of the Fair Work Act 2009).
The Commission found that Mr Concannon had not been constructively dismissed and that his decision to resign was voluntary.
A constructive dismissal is a situation where an employee has resigned, but they have intentionally or effectively been forced to do so by the actions of their employer.
Vice President Watson found the decision by Mr Concannon to resign to be understandable, but did not accept that it was as a result of any action by Portland District Health. While Ms Giles’ management style may have caused Mr Concannon considerable frustration, and it may not have been consistent with his views on best practice, the decisions which Ms Giles was making were ultimately her decisions to make.
Vice President Watson found that resignation was not the only option available to Mr Concannon, and “it was not one that he was forced to make”. In particular, before resigning Mr Concannon had not gone through any internal processes to resolve his concerns regarding his role and the role of Ms Giles.
For these reasons, the Commission determined that there was no actual dismissal, and that accordingly the dispute could not be considered further within the unfair dismissal system.
Lessons for Employers
While the employee was unsuccessful in this case, employers should still be aware of the possibility for different management styles to create workplace conflict even when there are good intentions on all sides. Care should therefore be taken to set appropriate expectations from the outset for new employees during the recruitment process and when preparing their position descriptions.
Managers should also be careful not to be perceived as sidelining staff when dealing with issues within a particular staff member’s area of expertise. Failing to respect a staff member’s role, or failing to reasonably communicate with them about matters that may affect them or their role, may still expose the manager to an accusation of bullying (or, as this case demonstrates, a claim of constructive dismissal).