Even law firms fell foul of federal termination laws

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Even law firms fell foul of federal termination laws

In what is an interesting illustration of the difficulties employers regularly faced under the former federal termination laws, a major national law firm has itself fallen foul of those laws.

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In what is an interesting illustration of the difficulties employers regularly faced under the former federal termination laws, a major national law firm has itself fallen foul of those laws.

The employee had been employed as a receptionist at the law firm of Phillips Fox. Her duties involved greeting clients, receiving deliveries, answering the switchboard and other incidental duties for a period of more than two years.

Following an organisational restructure, the employee was instructed to tidy up the kitchen which included the washing up of platters and dishes when required. The employee refused to carry out such duties on the grounds that it had not been part of her duties and was not appropriate for a well-dressed receptionist to be washing up.

The employer consequently terminated her employment on the basis that she refused to follow a reasonable and lawful direction of her employer. The employer alleged that her actions constituted misconduct and therefore justified the termination of her employment.

The Industrial Relations Court of Australia held however that there was no valid reason for the termination associated with the applicant’s capacity or conduct as a receptionist.

The Court held that the cleaning of the kitchen was not a major part of the employee’s duties as a receptionist. Ritter JR stated:

"It is the case generally, I think I can safely say, that the main desk receptionist at a relatively large law firm does not carry out washing up."

Ritter JR also stated that the employee’s reasons for objecting to washing up were valid ones and therefore her failure to carry out the instruction was not unreasonable. Both damages in lieu of notice and compensation were awarded, to a sum of $7,494.52 (Lupoi v Phillips Fox (960485)).

 
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