Confidentiality breach justified sacking bank exec


Confidentiality breach justified sacking bank exec

A senior bank executive who gave confidential company information to a journalist had breached his contract of employment, a court has found.


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The NSW Supreme Court has found a senior bank executive breached his contract of employment by informing a journalist of confidential bank policy, therefore his dismissal was justified. 

[Full text of this case: B v Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited [2014] NSWSC 1662 (24 November 2014)]

Issue and background

The most significant issue in the proceedings was whether the plaintiff was, as the ANZ contended, responsible for sending a doctored email to a journalist based in Brisbane who wrote for the Australian Financial Review.

The plaintiff had, at all times, denied he was the culprit. However, counsel for the plaintiff accepted that if ANZ proved the plaintiff had sent the doctored email, it was entitled to terminate his employment without notice: such conduct would amount to serious misconduct within the meaning of clause 14.3(b) of his contract of employment.

Sufficient evidence to justify dismissal

Justice Adamson considered whether an entitlement to terminate arose if ANZ held the opinion the plaintiff was guilty of serious misconduct or only if underlying facts established this.

ANZ established to the requisite standard that the plaintiff was responsible for the doctored email. The plaintiff had an opportunity, as a recipient of the email, to doctor and print it without saving it and therefore avoid detection by the IT systems then in place. There was no evidence the plaintiff knew he would not be able to be detected if it was done this way.

The plaintiff had known the journalist since he was a junior journalist in Sydney before he transferred to Brisbane.

The court noted It might be asked why someone as clever as the plaintiff would write the envelope by hand rather than, for example, type an address label. There was no evidence the plaintiff was particularly adept at typing or document preparation. He used the services of an EA. To require someone else to type a label or write the envelope would be to incur a greater risk of detection, in the court’s view.

The bottom line: Contracts of employment can contain strict confidentiality provisions and breach of such conditions constitutes grounds for dismissal.

B v Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited [2014] NSWSC 1662 (24 November 2014) 

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