How The COVID-19 Situation Is Affecting Unfair Workplace Dismissal Cases In Australia

January 28, 2022    Employmentlawyers
How The COVID-19 Situation Is Affecting Unfair Workplace Dismissal Cases In Australia

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has created havoc worldwide, and the Australian continent is no exception. The employment sector has witnessed a sharp rise in mass layoffs of employees from big and major organizations. Retail, media, finance, airlines, sports – name any sector, and you will find that employees have been laid off without any fault of theirs.

As per the reports of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), more than 800,000 lost their jobs between the period of February and May in the year 2020 only. The casual employees comprised two-thirds of the above number.

Several organizations are also using the pandemic as an excuse to mass lay off certain classes of employees. The dismissed employees in Australia also hold the right to hire employment lawyers to fight for their cause.

Unfair Dismissal & Fair Work Commission

An unfair dismissal is when an employee is terminated or forced to resign (for something that the employer has done) from his/her job in a harsh, unjust or unreasonable way. In such a case, the sacked employee can claim for getting back his/her job or compensation by applying to the Fair Work Commission. Small businesses (any business with less than 15 employees) have different dismissal rules.

An unfairly dismissed employee who wishes to apply to the Fair Work Commission needs to:

  • do so within 21 days of the dismissal, becoming effective
  • have coverage under the national workplace relations system
  • have served the minimum employment period

A Commission member then evaluates the evidence provided by the employee in support of the claim and decides whether the dismissal was unfair or not. A dismissed employee also has the right and option to appoint an employment lawyer who will prepare and present a legal case before the Commission on his/her behalf.

How COVID-19 Has Changed The Whole Layoff Scenario

It is lawful for companies to carry out mass layoffs from time to time to maintain an efficient workforce. If any business turns bankrupt or insolvent, in that case, too the employees’ positions can be made redundant. The entry of COVID-19 into the scenario changed the whole process of handing layoffs by the companies.

Sectors from education to finance and airlines to media – all have cut down their workforce by huge percentages in the past and current year.

COVID-19: An Excuse For Discrimination

Several workplaces have been using the pandemic as an excuse and laying off their employees. There have been instances where people falling under a higher age group were terminated in the name of COVID-19, and in turn, the companies hired a younger workforce. Women have also fallen prey to these discriminatory practices.

Due to the rise in layoffs and unfair termination of employees, there also has been a rise in claims for unfair dismissals to the Fair Work Commission. People have been forced to hire employment law lawyers to fight cases on their behalf. Upon receiving so many claim applications, the Fair Work Commission has also tweaked its processes of handling the matters.

The Role Of Employment Lawyers In The Present Situation

Just searching the web for a particular place, say, employment lawyers Perth, will give you numerous results. A lawyer prepares the case in detail, investigates the reasons for dismissal and represents the case before the Commission on behalf of the employee. The lawyers handling the cases of employment and dismissals have been getting more clients for the last two years than they got earlier.

  • In the present scenario, as the terminations are being made using the pandemic as a reason, it is becoming difficult for the lawyers to collect enough evidence against the employers and present a rightful proposal before the Commission. People with lower work efficiency are also being laid off because of their inadequate skills (and the ongoing pandemic, too), so the lawyers are left with little chance to win the cases for their clients.
  • The Commission also falls into a dilemma in the current situation, as it has been receiving many claims since the last year. On the one hand, it is impossible to consider all the claims made by so many laid-off employees, and on the other, their concerns cannot be nullified totally.

Several rules and vaccination regulations have also been laid down by the companies as prerequisites to be met by the employees to keep their job intact.

What Can Be Done To Address This Crisis

The laid-off employees are investing their savings into legal cases, considering it as the last option to get back their job or a decent compensation. To address this crisis of unfair dismissal, lawyers should take up the cases of the dismissed employees with responsibility, investigate thoroughly, and put everything into a detailed case so that there is a fair chance of winning.

The organizations doing the layoffs should at least check the efficiency of an employee. The companies carrying out the layoffs as a means of discrimination should be checked by the governing authorities and should be restricted from doing so. The Commission, on its part, should act with absolute discretion regarding the evaluation of the claims that it receives. There should be changes put forth if necessary to handle huge number of claims, so that justice doesn’t get overlooked.

Final Thoughts

It is understandable that most companies are not doing the layoffs out of any personal vendetta against their employees and are going through rough patches in this pandemic. Still, it is possible to be considerate and look for other options to address this crisis. They can cut down the appraisals, perks, and benefits to cut down their costs. Termination should always be the last option to choose out of all.

It will never be possible if all the people, the companies, the governing bodies and the nation don’t find ways to address these issues. So, it is imperative for everyone engaged to make a little effort so that people are not dismissed unfairly and don’t fall prey to any kind of discrimination and partiality.

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