Be Careful What You Wish For!

Whilst preparing a Fair Work Commission matter for hearing, I came across the rather interesting (for me at least!) case of Lumley v Bremick.

That case arose in the context of an undesirable and volatile relationship between two employees, Ms Lumley and Ms Cook. After receiving complaints of bullying from Ms Cook, the work place took steps to minimse the conflict between Ms Lumley and Ms Cook, principally by introducing a mediation style practice should any conflict between them arise.

This practice did not assist in reducing the conflict between Miss Lumley and Ms Cook. Both Ms Cook and Ms Lumley received warnings, both written and verbal, over a period of around five months.

The constant tension eventually lead to an altercation between Ms Lumley and Ms Cook, which was reported to their manager, Mr Jamieson, by a third party. Later that same day Ms Cook came to Mr Jamieson and said that she thought she had no option but to resign. Mr Jamieson dissuaded her from resigning.

Mr Jamieson then had a meeting with Ms Lumley. Although, he did not intend to dismiss her.

Rather, Ms Lumley’s conduct during the meeting changed Mr Jamieson’s course. During the course of the meeting Ms Lumley made a number of goading statements, including:

  • Well John what are you going to do about it, you should just go ahead and sack me then“; and
  • Go ahead then sack me know, just sack me now” and
  • Just do it, sack me

Mr Jamieson then called a witness to the meeting and proceeded to dismiss Ms Lumley.

The Commission noted that Ms Cook appeared to have been responsible for the ‘final confrontation’. A common sense notion of fairness then begs the question, well why then was it fair to dismiss Ms Lumley when Ms Cook was the apparent cause of the incident.

It must be remembered that Mr Jamieson did not intend to dismiss Ms Lumley during the meeting, Rather, it was Ms Lumley’s goading of Mr Jamieson to dismiss her that led Mr Jamieson to a separate realisation – that the ongoing conflict between Ms Lumley and Ms Cook was not only unresolved but likely to worsen over time and create continuing problems in the workplace. The only option was that one of Ms Lumley or Ms Cook would have to be dismissed.

As it happened, Ms Lumley then got exactly what she asked for and was dismissed.

Ms Lumley appeared to run her case on the basis that it was Ms Cook that should have been dismissed, not her. However, the Commission refused to embark on a determination of who was at fault for the conflict. Rather, the Commission focused on the fact that in order to maintain a harmonious workplace, Mr Jamieson had no alternative but to dismiss one of either Ms Lumley and Ms Cook.

As Ms Lumley and Ms Cook had both acted inappropriately and caused conflict at varying times, it was open to Mr Jamieson to dismiss either of them.

Sometimes you do get exactly what you wish for!

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