It is understandable that many employees may feel anxious and even frustrated when called by management to discuss their workplace performance or behaviour. However, if the employee’s frustration turns into anger and they attempt to walk out of the meeting, management should remember that they are able to give the employee a ‘lawful and reasonable direction’ to remain in the meeting until it is formally concluded. Commissioner Cloghan’s comments in Scott Wilson v Leighton Contractors Pty Limited [2014] FWC 5503 make clear that an employee is expected to comply with a reasonable and lawful instruction given to them by their employer. The decision in this case also highlights that a reasonable and lawful instruction can include requiring the employee to remain in a meeting regarding disciplinary procedures until it is formally concluded, as ‘[i]t would be intolerable for employees to consider it appropriate behaviour to storm out of meetings, at a time of their choosing, rather than conclude a meeting properly’: at [84].

Further to this, there have been a number of cases where an employee’s storming out of a meeting to discuss workplace performance with management has been a key factor in supporting a finding by the Fair Work Commission that their dismissal was not unfair:

  • In addition to failing to comply with his employer’s instructions to attend meetings, the employee in Scott Wilson v Leighton Contractors Pty Limited [2014] FWC 5503 walked out of a meeting with management to discuss the outcome of the investigation into his complaints of workplace harassment and bullying, and refused to return upon being requested to do so by his supervisor. This ‘rank insubordination’ by Mr Wilson was held to be an influential element in the Fair Work Commission’s finding that the employer’s termination of Mr Wilson’s employment was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable.
  • In Hilda Anderson v Yumba-Meta Housing Association [2013] FWC 772, Ms Anderson, a part-time care worker, used offensive language and stormed out of a meeting with senior management that was intended to discuss her disrespectful behaviour towards her manager. The Fair Work Commission found that this behaviour was a contributing factor supporting the employer’s decision to terminate employment as not being harsh, unjust or unreasonable.
  • In Patricia McCoombes v Sigma [2010] FWA 5066, Ms McCoombes, a production operator for a pharmaceutical company, ignored her supervisor’s direction for her to remain in a meeting to discuss her workplace performance until it was concluded. This failure to abide by the supervisor’s lawful and reasonable instruction was deemed by Commission Asbury to be ‘not appropriate’ and that it was reasonable for the employer to take this behaviour into account when terminating Ms McCoombes employment.

 

What you should do when faced with this curve ball:

  • Attempt to calm the employee down. You may also offer to take a break from the meeting and recommence at a later time, so the employee can cool down.
  • Clearly state to the employee that you are instructing them to sit down and remain in the meeting.
  • Warn the employee that leaving the meeting prior to its conclusion will be treated as a failure to comply with a reasonable and lawful direction that will be viewed as serious misconduct and may justify immediate termination of employment.

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