Can an employer fire an employee via text message? The short answer is yes. Is it a wise choice? The strong answer is no.
While our methods of communication and overall involvement with one another have recently been forced into online communication via zoom meetings and an increased reliance on email and text messaging, the Fair Work Commission has spoken using strong language, bordering on vehement, that firing a single employee or a group of employees via text message can easily result in an unfair dismissal finding against the employer. Their exact words include the following; “the colourful language used by the Fair Work Commission to describe termination by text message included gutless, callous, outrageous and appalling”
Hence, there are no real circumstances where we would recommend an employer use a text method as a means of firing an employee(s). The only language that appears to grant this right to an employer includes if the situation is one that is volatile, has the potential to incite violence or is geographically absolutely necessary. However, short of having strong evidentiary proof that the firing of an employee falls under one of these extreme circumstances, it is not wise to use a text message for the purpose of letting an employee go.
Instead, it is highly recommended that regardless of the many changes COVID-19 has foisted upon us, it is still best to fire an employee in person. If this cannot be accomplished, then it is possible for an employer to use a combination of the following actions to ensure that the employers’ legal obligations for a fair dismissal have been met.
- Be sure to document and share with the employee the necessary warnings regarding a loss of work production, inappropriate or unprofessional behaviours, timeliness, attendance and meeting all of the obligations of the job, in general.
- Present your concerns to your employee(s) over a private zoom meeting with a representative from human resources present.
- Document or record your meeting(s)
- Give the employee suggestions for improvement and time to rehabilitate their work performance
- Follow up your zoom meetings with an email sent to them either privately or via their work email
- If termination occurs be sure to speak with the person via telephone first, then follow up with a letter of termination via email and via regular post with proof of receipt attached
While it may seem easier and less confrontational to simply write a couple of sentences and hit send, this form of employee dismissal can cause you to be exposed to a claim for unfair dismissal. In addition, it represents a lack of professionalism in the manner in which your company handles difficult situations and shows a blatant disregard for the respect of the individual who has worked for your organization. As such, it is highly recommended that when an action as drastic as firing an employee must be taken, it be done in a careful and thorough manner that is in compliance with the law.
If you find yourself in need of assistance with this or any other legal issue, please contact the law offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. At Owen Hodge, we are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of any and all of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us at your earliest convenience to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780.