A ‘toxic’ workplace?

toxic workplace rain

After clashing with a pharmacist colleague, this pharmacy assistant’s unfair dismissal case against her employer of more than 14 years fell down in the face of an investigation

A WA pharmacy assistant recently brought her employer, an owner of two pharmacies, before the WA Industrial Relations Commission claiming unfair dismissal.

In October last year, the PA was handed a letter terminating her employment after more than 14 years of working at the pharmacy.

The letter said the PA was “no longer required” in the workplace but offered the equivalent of four weeks’ pay.

Before the Commission, the PA claimed that the dismissal came without warning and that she had intended to work at the pharmacy for several years more until retirement.

She sought six months’ remuneration.

Prior to being dismissed, problems had arisen between clashing personalities at the pharmacy, specifically between the PA and a pharmacist colleague.

By the middle of 2017, these differences in style and personality were causing “real problems”, although the pharmacy owner stated these differences had been a source of friction for a long time before that.

The PA gave evidence to the Commission that by mid-2017 the work environment at the pharmacy was “toxic”, which the Commissioner hearing the case said he had “no hesitation” agreeing with after hearing the evidence.

Stuck with two unhappy employees, the owner tried to separate the PA and the pharmacist as much as he could as a first measure.

He also suggested to the PA that she could work some hours at his other pharmacy, to which she responded that she was not interested.

At this point, behind her employer’s back, the PA called the second pharmacy and queried whether there were any hours available there, “to investigate his plan to give her hours at that business”.

She had also made a negative comment to a colleague that she was not interested in training another PA that was replacing some of her Saturday hours.

“This shows, to my mind, and resoundingly so, that the necessary trust which an employee must have in their employer for an employment relationship had broken down and that the [PA] had become too wilful and combative in her dealings with her boss for her  to have a long-term future in his employment,” the Commissioner found.

He added that with no reason to do so, the applicant had “decided to launch an enquiry into her employer’s honesty and sincerity.”

“The phone calls were clearly on the respondent’s mind when he dismissed the applicant.”

The conduct was serious enough to warrant dismissal, the Commissioner found, adding that the PA had failed to prove that her dismissal was unfair.

However the Commissioner also found the pharmacy owner could have better communicated his reasons for dismissing the employee, and attempted to further investigate the matters that brought the PA’s employment to an end.

The owner should have put to the PA that she had misconducted herself by going behind his back to ring his second pharmacist and expressing herself negatively to a colleague, the Commissioner said.

“Had he done so, and had he gathered all the relevant evidence including comment from the applicant, the respondent could have, and would have, decided to dismiss her at that point and fairly so.

“An employer cannot, without warning and without a process involving hearing the employee’s side of the story, dismiss an employee in such circumstances,” he said, adding there is a need for some basic process preceding dismissal.

The Commissioner ordered the owner to pay his former employee six weeks’ worth of her regular salary in compensation, as opposed to the six months’ remuneration sought by the PA.

No award was made for humiliation or distress as there was “no convincing evidence that the applicant was anything other than angry when she was terminated”.

Re-employment at the pharmacy was dismissed as impracticable by both the PA and the Commissioner.

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  1. Daniel Hackett

    At least in a pharmacy you have remedies at hand for a toxic workplace. Some Bach calming and restorative flower essence perhaps?

  2. Tamer Ahmed

    So calling the other pharmacy to check what hours do they have is wilful and combative ?. What kind of dodo court is that ?

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