Intern’s fight for payout in redundancy case

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The outcome of a newly registered pharmacist’s redundancy case hinged on whether her employer offered suitable alternative employment

Ms B worked as an intern pharmacist at an Anzac Square, Brisbane pharmacy, but at the end of her internship her employer explained that this store did not have the capacity to employ another fully registered pharmacist.

The employer submitted to a Fair Work Commission hearing that they had “obtained other alternative employment,” which they offered Ms B, meaning that they could reduce her redundancy payout to nil.

She maintained that she was owed eight weeks’ redundancy pay from the employer, based on her length of service (between four and five years).

As well as not having the capacity to employ another fully qualified pharmacist at the Anzac Square store, the employer said that “the decision was also made that upon completion of the Respondent’s internship we would not employ another pharmacy intern, as the business no longer required the role to be performed.”

This meant the pharmacy intern role was redundant, they said.

When advising Ms B that she was to be made redundant, the employer told her they had “identified a suitable role for her redeployment”.

This role was a 38 hours a week role at an associated pharmacy in Loganholme, with a base pay rate of $26.28 per hour with applicable penalty and loading rates.

Six days after the offer, Ms B told the employer that she had accepted a position with a different employer and would not be taking on the new role at Loganholme.

She submitted to the hearing that “the location of the offered redeployment was unsuitable for her needs, given the location of her residence and the lack of her own vehicle or driver’s licence”.

“She submitted that the Applicant was aware of these circumstances and stated that, based on using South-East Queensland’s public transport planner, Translink, her daily commute of 15 minutes would increase to 70 minutes to get to Loganholme.

“She was also concerned about potential disruptions or delays in service causing her to be late to work and about travelling during non-peak periods, for example returning home after late trading, which may take a longer period of time and may pose risks to her personal safety.”

She said that promotion to the position of pharmacist at the Anzac Square location would be “part of the natural course of progression” after completing her internship, and that it was expected that she would continue her employment as a pharmacist once registered, pointing out that her contract of employment had no end date.

She also said she had been on stress leave just before she was told her position was to be made redundant. She attributed the state of her mental health to her work life over the preceding six months and, “as a result of how the Applicant [the employer] was managing the store”.

The employer said they had not been told about any effects of the work environment on Ms B’s mental health.

Even if the travel time to Loganholme had been acceptable, Ms B said she would not have agreed to the alternative employment offered.

“It was not in dispute that the Respondent was entitled to be paid redundancy pay. Further, the amount required to be paid was not in dispute and there was no suggestion that the dismissal was not a case of genuine redundancy,” the Fair Work Commission noted.

“The matter turns on whether the Applicant had obtained, ‘other acceptable employment,’ for the Respondent.”

The Commission noted that “the increased travel time is not excessive, in terms of what would be considered a reasonable period of travel time, particularly in circumstances of obtaining employment in the advanced position of pharmacist, and does not render the alternative employment unacceptable”.

As a result, Ms B had her redundancy payment reduced to nil.

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