Later that year, the employee put in a leave request form for six weeks of leave during the June – July period to go to Europe. The business owner declined the request due to two factors:
- The end of the financial year was the busiest time of year for the business and a six week absence from this employee would significantly impact his capacity to operate his business and service his clients.
- The employee already had two weeks of leave and wasn’t entitled to another six.
Five days prior to the employee taking leave she approached the business owner one morning and said she had to leave the office urgently as her solicitor had called with an emergency. When questioned as to the emergency she replied with “I haven’t signed my will.” The business owner declined her request to leave immediately as she was the only manager in the office and advised her that she could go as soon as one of the other managers came in – in approximately an hour. The employee picked up her bag and left anyway.
The day before the employee’s leave she went into the business owner’s office at 3pm and said she was leaving. The business owner said “no, you need to work until 5pm. Your leave doesn’t start until tomorrow.” She picked up her bag, said good bye and left anyway.
Failing to follow a direction from the employer is clearly unacceptable. The business owner and I discussed what we would do. We decided that we would have a formal discussion on her return and would at that time consider her responses to her concerns. We both agreed that we would likely take serious disciplinary action regarding these two incidents.
On the Saturday prior to her returning to work on Monday, the business owner received an email from the employee stating that she was unwell and had seen a doctor in Italy and he had said she was not fit to travel. She provided a medical certificate (written in Italian) and said she was due to see the doctor again in three days’ time. Naturally the business owner was sceptical of the legitimacy of the medical certificate, as was I.
Given the employees original request for a longer period, it all seemed very convenient that she was now sick and unable to return home. In these instances I get cranky! Businesses don’t have to put up with this blatant disrespect!
Upon searching the employee’s company computer we found an itinerary for her holiday showing internal fights in Italy for the week after she was supposed to be back at work AND a return flights from Rome back to Melbourne a week after she was due back at work.
Armed with this information I recommended to the business owner that we could terminate the employee for gross misconduct on her return. We would be taking a risk but he was willing to take the risk of an unfair dismissal case because he felt strongly that he couldn’t tolerate untrustworthy and disrespectful behaviour in his business. And I agreed.
He decided that he wasn’t going to wait until the employee's return and instead sent a termination letter to her via email while she was still on leave. Although we usually recommend proceeding with caution, in this instance we both felt strongly about terminating immediately and sending a strong message. To be honest, it also felt pretty damn satisfying!
- While there are rules and processes to deal with employee behaviour, sometimes taking a risk is better for your business. With any extreme action such as this, make sure you have weighed up all of the risks before taking any action. (In this case, we felt the employee would not raise an unfair dismissal case, but if she did we had compelling evidence to allow us to reach a settlement that we would be comfortable with).
- The actions you take when dealing with employee issues set precedents in your business and send a clear message to other employees on what will and will not be tolerated. Make sure you manage all employees consistently.
- Document everything! The more notes you have, the better case you can build if you have to explain your actions in a hearing.
- Sometimes as a business owner or manager you just gotta do what you gotta do!