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Domestic violence in the workplace – where the parties to an order work together

Domestic violence is an issue receiving increasing publicity and attention. A recent case in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) illustrates that acting to the detriment of domestic violence victims will result in employers being dealt with before the tribunal.

A company director dismissed a woman whose partner worked in the same office and who was the subject of a domestic violence order. The employer said he could not employ both of them, and he did not want to dismiss the partner. The FWC ordered the employer to pay compensation to the woman for unfair dismissal.

The woman became the victim of domestic violence by her partner on 19 January 2015.
Police removed her partner from the home and the police applied for a domestic violence order against her partner. She was unable to attend work on 19 and 20 January, although she contacted a co-worker to explain her absence to the employer. On 21 January 2015 the woman had to attend court and she rang her manager, who told her to rest and return to work the following day.

The next day, the employer’s director met with the woman about the domestic violence order, which restricted her partner from approaching or remaining in proximity to her. He said he could not have both of them working in the office because he could not protect her. She refused to resign and he said he would not dismiss her partner. Later that day, the employer’s lawyer recommended that she resign and provided a resignation letter which she signed, feeling she had no choice.

The woman made an unfair dismissal application to the FWC. She said she had been dismissed, while the employer said she had resigned. The FWC found that the woman had not intended to resign. As a victim of violence, she had been in an extremely vulnerable position, and it was unlikely that she would have wanted to give up the job she liked and needed for her financial support.

The FWC found that the company director had dismissed the woman, who had signed the resignation letter because it had been given to her for that purpose. The employer did not have a valid reason for the dismissal.

The FWC accepted there were limits to what an employer could do to accommodate the private lives of employees but here the employer had not explored any available options.

The termination of the woman’s employment was found to be harsh, unjust and unreasonable and the FWC ordered compensation to be paid by the employer in the maximum amount of $27,500.

For more information, please contact Margaret Miller, Partner in our Litigation & Dispute Resolution department.