School cleaner reinstated

Fair Work Commission has ordered a school cleaner's reinstatement and payment of lost wages

A country school cleaner has her job back after the Fair Work Commission found she had been unfairly dismissed after taking leave for an operation.

Veronica Bennett, 56, had been employed by Joss Facility Management for five and a half years cleaning Blayney Public school, the courthouse and Country Energy offices in the central western NSW town.

In August last year, she took unpaid sick leave for the purpose of having an operation on her foot. During her recovery she provided the company’s return-to-work officer with doctor’s certificates stating she was unfit for work.

She told the company she expected to be cleared to return to work on 10 February, however on 6 February Ms Bennett received a phone call from the company’s injury manager and legal counsel Fleur Thompson.

During their phone conversation Ms Thompson came to the conclusion that Ms Bennett could not undertake the requirements of her job, and she was dismissed. Four days later, her doctor passed Ms Bennett fit for work.

Commissioner Ian Cambridge condemned cleaning contractor Joss Facility Management for sacking Ms Bennett over the phone and compared the company’s treatment of her to “tossing out a dirty rag”.

Commissioner Cambridge said there was no proper basis for the company to form the view she was unable to undertake the “inherent requirements” of her job without any medical opinion to support that conclusion.

“The reason for dismissal was erroneous, capricious, unsound, unfounded, fanciful, ill-considered, illogical, intemperate, and devoid of compassion,” he said.

“Employees are human beings and not human resources. A machine or item of office equipment might be quickly discarded if it is broken or malfunctioning.

“However, an employee is entitled to be treated with basic human dignity, and advice of the termination of employment by telephone or other electronic means should be strenuously avoided so as to ensure that the dismissal of an employee is not conducted with the perfunctory dispassion of tossing out a dirty rag.”

He ordered Ms Bennett’s reinstatement and payment of lost wages.