Emil Ford Lawyers

Fair Work Commission not sweet on aspiring sugar daddy

In a recent decision, the Fair Work Commission has upheld a school’s decision to terminate a teacher’s employment for inappropriate conduct towards a student by finding that the teacher’s conduct amounted to a valid reason for summary dismissal.

The teacher’s conduct related to a particular student and the Commission was required to weigh the evidence of the teacher against the evidence of the student who made the allegations. Having considered the reliability and openness of the two witnesses, the Commission favoured the student’s evidence and found that the teacher had done the following:

  • offered to be the student’s sugar daddy;
  • offered to pay the student an allowance to be her sugar daddy;
  • suggested the teacher and student could drink wine together;
  • suggested that he wanted a massage from the student (in a past life the teacher was a massage therapist);
  • suggested that he could be a better boyfriend than the student’s current boyfriend; and
  • intruded unreasonably into the student’s private life by seeking her out at her workplace (a local Woolworths) to engage her in conversation.

The Commission found that each element of the teacher’s conduct (considered individually) listed above was inappropriate, unprofessional, a breach of duty and a valid reason for summary dismissal.

The Commission commented that there is nothing improper in a teacher shopping for legitimate purposes at a supermarket in his private time irrespective of whether he knows students of his school are working or may be working at that store. However, the teacher’s conduct was found to be misconduct because he had shopped at that store to seek out the student, having on several occasions passed several closer Woolworths stores to shop at that particular store and purchase items at her checkout and having on one occasion shopped at that store earlier in the day and then returned later that day in order to speak with the student.

Importantly, the Commissioner acknowledged that, despite minor defects in the school’s investigative and decision-making processes, the school had given the employee “a fair go all-round”.

The school’s conduct affirms the importance of a thorough investigative process and a fair decision-making process, including allowing employees an opportunity to respond to allegations, and the school’s entitlement to take decisive and well-informed action to protect its students.

As an aside, the school was helped in this case by the student coming forward to bring her allegations at a reasonably early stage. In the past, disciplinary proceedings have not been taken further because of insufficient evidence. In the #metoo and post-Royal Commission era, schools and employers should be mindful of creating a culture where people are comfortable and encouraged to bring allegations to those in authority.

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