In the case of Georgia Sologinkin v Cosmetic Suppliers Pty Ltd T/A Coty  FWC 1838, the Fair Work Commission affirmed the importance of trust and confidence in the employment relationship and that sending offensive emails to clients will end the employment relationship.
In this case, Georgia Sologinkin was employed as Key Accounts Manager of Cosmetic Suppliers Pty Ltd (Cosmetic Suppliers) with a long and previously unblemished employment record.
On 9 November 2016, Ms Sologinkin sent an intemperate and inappropriate email to the respondent’s customer services team and another disparaging and highly offensive email about clients to a friend employed by Cosmetic Suppliers. Unfortunately for Ms Sologinkin, the clients about whom the comments had been made were inadvertently copied into the email!
Ms Sologinkin tried to recall the email unsuccessfully. Cosmetic Suppliers later issued a letter to Ms Sologinkin to attend a disciplinary meeting on 14 November 2016. Ms Sologinkin advised she was unable to attend the meeting however, provided a detailed written response. In her response, Ms Sologinkin mentioned, among other things:
- previous difficulties in coping with the stress of her position;
- medical treatment that she had been receiving for PTSD; and
- a lack of support from management through recent organisational changes that had affected her ability to service her clients and achieve her sales targets.
Cosmetic Suppliers considered Ms Sologinkin’s explanation but found the employment relationship was irrevocably damaged due to the gravity of Ms Sologinkin’s conduct. Cosmetic Suppliers proceeded to terminate Ms Sologinkin’s employment on the grounds that it had lost confidence and trust in her as an employee and paid her in lieu of notice. Ms Sologinkin later lodged an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission (Commission).
The Commission was satisfied that Cosmetic Suppliers had a valid reason for the termination of Ms Sologinkin’s employment. In this respect, the Commission stated:
“The email contained a number of derogatory and offensive comments about the respondent’s clients. Even if these had not been sent to the clients themselves, these comments would have been entirely inappropriate – especially from someone in the applicant’s position, whose job it was to manage relations with key customers. They were also in breach of the respondent’s Code of Conduct and its IT User Conduct Policy…
… I accept that the email was sent to the clients by mistake. However, whatever the explanation is as to how that happened, the ultimate responsibility must be borne by the applicant.”
Further, the Commission was satisfied that Cosmetic Suppliers had afforded Ms Sologinkin procedural fairness.
In relation to Ms Sologinkin’s unblemished employment history, the Commission stated:
“[Ms Sologinkin] had a long period of service with the respondent and its predecessors, and had not previously been warned for misconduct. She also apologised for her behaviour. However, I do not consider that those factors outweigh the gravity of the misconduct so as to render the dismissal harsh. I also note that the applicant had sent another intemperate and inappropriate email the same day – this time to some of her colleagues.”
Ultimately, the Commission determined the dismissal was not harsh, unjust, or unreasonable.
Lessons for employers
This decision demonstrates that where an employee’s conduct is so egregious that an employer can no longer maintain trust and confidence in the applicant’s employment, the Commission will be more willing to find that dismissal is an appropriate outcome. Nevertheless, each case will turn on its facts and circumstances, and employers should be aware that the termination of an employee is not a decision to be taken lightly.
Please contact a member of Lynch Meyer’s Workplace Relations team if you require advice in relation to the misconduct or termination of an employee.