The recent employment law case of Qantas Airways Ltd v Transport Workers’ Union of Australia  FCAFC 71 considered adverse action under the Fair Work Act 2009 and the obligation on an employer to establish that a decision affecting a worker is not contrary to the prohibitions in the Act.
Adverse action is covered in the By Lawyers Employment Law guide.
For example, if an employee is dismissed, which constitutes adverse action being taken against them, because they made a complaint against their employer, which constitutes their exercise of a workplace right, then the employee may be able to bring a general protections claim against the employer.
In the recent case Qantas made a decision, while its fleet was grounded for the pandemic, to outsource ground handling operations at Australian airports. That resulted in Qantas employees losing their jobs to external providers. The union sought reinstatement of the employees on the basis that Qantas’ decision constituted adverse action on a number of bases. Qantas denied this and argued that the decision was made for operational business reasons.
The court found for the employees on one of the adverse action grounds, namely that the real reason for Qantas’ action in standing down employees was to prevent the exercise of a workplace right, being their right to negotiate a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement which fell due shortly afterwards. Interestingly, that meant the court upheld the adverse action claim on the basis of a workplace right that did not exist at the time of the decision, but may exist at some future point in time.
The court looked in detail at how the decision was made, what the company took into account, and its knowledge of the future workplace right. The court found that Qantas knew it was circumventing the future right, whereas if it had no such knowledge the outcome may have been different.
The case may go on appeal, but it serves to remind workers of the robust nature of their rights under the Act and employers of the extent of their obligations.
This case will be added to the By Lawyers 101 Employment Law Answers publication and any developments on any appeal will be monitored.