Perspective: destructive dismissals


Sacking someone who didn’t see it coming, who may realise that the process to replace them has been going on behind their back, is asking for trouble.

An employer taking constructive steps towards dismissing an underperforming employee, in a clandestine and ultimately destructive way, constitutes constructive dismissal. It’s a horrible experience for any employee, and even worse when the HR manager has been part of the career assassination unit.

An early step along the dangerous path of constructive dismissal is for the CEO or a management team member to ask HR to do a search for alternative talent to replace the underperformer. HR then gets its internal recruitment arm, or more likely a recruitment firm, to do the dirty work. A blind ad on Seek could be involved.

The plot thickens and the risks rise when, at the long-list stage in the recruitment process, potential candidates understand what the job is and who the employer is. Then, either through the recruiter’s declaration or the candidate’s detective work, there is a realisation that the job is currently occupied.

Finally, a recruit is secured and signed up. The manager – or more likely HR – is charged with the task of approaching the incumbent victim and ending their employment on the Friday afternoon, with escorts to see the person off the premises with the usual cardboard box of personal items. Assassination complete.

When this happens, and the employee discovers through their network or social media that a longstanding plan had been actioned to remove them, legal action can be commenced against the employer for constructive dismissal.

So what is ethically and legally legitimate for HR in these circumstances, and what is not?

Being a participant in the above scenario is not okay – professionally or morally. If discovered, being a co-conspirator will cause loss of trust with almost all of your co-workers. However, it is okay within your succession-planning activities to cast the net outside your organisation and identify potential external candidates as successors for critical positions. And it’s legitimate to use search firms and social media data to build profiles of all such external successors.

It’s beginning approaches to external candidates when a job is still occupied by an employee that breeches legitimacy.

When the boss comes to you and says they want to kick off a blind recruitment process to replace John or Joan, you need to have the courage to explain that it will expose the company to infringing constructive dismissal employment laws. You should add that it would be better for the company to approach the employee and advise them that their performance isn’t meeting expectations and the company would like to make a change over time and, with their knowledge and company support, transition them to a role elsewhere.

The tactics required to change direction and avoid a constructive dismissal claim aren’t that complex, but they do require HR to have the courage to push back against ruthless, risk-taking bosses thinking only of the short-term bottom line.

Also on this topic: Charles Power from law firm Holding Redlich provides a legal perspective, as part of this series on constructive dismissal.

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ron hope

Peter I cannot see how someone who is dismissed by his or her employer has been ‘constructively dismissed’. The essence of ‘constructive dismissal’ is when an employee is treated so bad, objectively assessed, no reasonable employee should have to put up with that. In such circumstances the employee resigns but that resignation may be a ‘constructive dismissal’. After your sentence ‘Assassination Complete’ you go on to say that the employee may have a remedy for ‘constructive dismissal’?

Peter Wilson
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Peter Wilson

Dear Ron Thanks for your comments. The lay interpretation of “constructive dismissal” is treating someone as if they are not there whilst they are in fact still an employee. That general characteristic can be invoked in a range of ways and my article gave an all too common example of that. But it can happen in other ways as Charles Powers companion article covers in this edition of HRM. A straight ‘dismissal’ which you refer to, usually means a person has breached their contract and is removed from that company’s employment, without legal redress. Constructive dismissal is different and my… Read more »

Peter Wilson
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Peter Wilson

Dear Robyn,

Thanks for your question. In short, to take a formal decision behind someone’s back that they are to be retrenched as soon as a replacement is found, and not to tell them is treating them as if they aren’t there and taking their job away without prior consultation with them as required under the Fair Work laws. If an employer does that, and the sacked employee finds out – the latter can argue that’s a constructive dismissal.

Regards

Peter

More on HRM

Perspective: destructive dismissals


Sacking someone who didn’t see it coming, who may realise that the process to replace them has been going on behind their back, is asking for trouble.

An employer taking constructive steps towards dismissing an underperforming employee, in a clandestine and ultimately destructive way, constitutes constructive dismissal. It’s a horrible experience for any employee, and even worse when the HR manager has been part of the career assassination unit.

An early step along the dangerous path of constructive dismissal is for the CEO or a management team member to ask HR to do a search for alternative talent to replace the underperformer. HR then gets its internal recruitment arm, or more likely a recruitment firm, to do the dirty work. A blind ad on Seek could be involved.

The plot thickens and the risks rise when, at the long-list stage in the recruitment process, potential candidates understand what the job is and who the employer is. Then, either through the recruiter’s declaration or the candidate’s detective work, there is a realisation that the job is currently occupied.

Finally, a recruit is secured and signed up. The manager – or more likely HR – is charged with the task of approaching the incumbent victim and ending their employment on the Friday afternoon, with escorts to see the person off the premises with the usual cardboard box of personal items. Assassination complete.

When this happens, and the employee discovers through their network or social media that a longstanding plan had been actioned to remove them, legal action can be commenced against the employer for constructive dismissal.

So what is ethically and legally legitimate for HR in these circumstances, and what is not?

Being a participant in the above scenario is not okay – professionally or morally. If discovered, being a co-conspirator will cause loss of trust with almost all of your co-workers. However, it is okay within your succession-planning activities to cast the net outside your organisation and identify potential external candidates as successors for critical positions. And it’s legitimate to use search firms and social media data to build profiles of all such external successors.

It’s beginning approaches to external candidates when a job is still occupied by an employee that breeches legitimacy.

When the boss comes to you and says they want to kick off a blind recruitment process to replace John or Joan, you need to have the courage to explain that it will expose the company to infringing constructive dismissal employment laws. You should add that it would be better for the company to approach the employee and advise them that their performance isn’t meeting expectations and the company would like to make a change over time and, with their knowledge and company support, transition them to a role elsewhere.

The tactics required to change direction and avoid a constructive dismissal claim aren’t that complex, but they do require HR to have the courage to push back against ruthless, risk-taking bosses thinking only of the short-term bottom line.

Also on this topic: Charles Power from law firm Holding Redlich provides a legal perspective, as part of this series on constructive dismissal.

4
Leave a reply

avatar
500
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
ron hope
Guest
ron hope

Peter I cannot see how someone who is dismissed by his or her employer has been ‘constructively dismissed’. The essence of ‘constructive dismissal’ is when an employee is treated so bad, objectively assessed, no reasonable employee should have to put up with that. In such circumstances the employee resigns but that resignation may be a ‘constructive dismissal’. After your sentence ‘Assassination Complete’ you go on to say that the employee may have a remedy for ‘constructive dismissal’?

Peter Wilson
Guest
Peter Wilson

Dear Ron Thanks for your comments. The lay interpretation of “constructive dismissal” is treating someone as if they are not there whilst they are in fact still an employee. That general characteristic can be invoked in a range of ways and my article gave an all too common example of that. But it can happen in other ways as Charles Powers companion article covers in this edition of HRM. A straight ‘dismissal’ which you refer to, usually means a person has breached their contract and is removed from that company’s employment, without legal redress. Constructive dismissal is different and my… Read more »

Peter Wilson
Guest
Peter Wilson

Dear Robyn,

Thanks for your question. In short, to take a formal decision behind someone’s back that they are to be retrenched as soon as a replacement is found, and not to tell them is treating them as if they aren’t there and taking their job away without prior consultation with them as required under the Fair Work laws. If an employer does that, and the sacked employee finds out – the latter can argue that’s a constructive dismissal.

Regards

Peter

More on HRM