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Over two years after a supervisor at Toyota was terminated for breaching his employers code of conduct by his inappropriate and improper behaviour, the Fair Work Commission has found the termination was fair, just and reasonable. The allegations involve a team leader at the Toyota paint shop towards a group of young female employees working in the Toyota paint shop engaged on temporary fixed term contracts.

At the time these matters became subject to an investigation by the company, and rather than address the workplace behaviour of their member, his union (the AMWU) claimed the investigation process was flawed and being undertaken contrary to the terms of the workplace agreement. They tried to make an industrial dispute out of it. That didn’t really get anywhere, other than drag the matter on unnecessarily, but we have seen this all before.

When the matter finally got to a hearing before the Commission the terminated employee did not dispute that he would pay compliments to some of the female employees in the Sealer Group about their appearance. In cross-examination he said:

“…it’s like they making a lot of mistakes and I try to feedback to them and then you can see their facial that like it’s not happy on your feedback and you say “You’re beautiful”… So in every circumstances there’s always what’s this context and why I said all those things. It’s not really just like randomly “You’re beautiful”, “You’re beautiful” but sometimes I say “You’re beautiful” to distract their mind and also a lot of people sometimes spending their time on the mirror and I say “Hey, you’re beautiful already. You don’t need to fix your face”. It’s not really why you trying to say that like it’s (indistinct) or trying to think but it’s not. The motive is not there.”

What an interesting, albeit poorly articulated, people management approach this team leader took to create a cohesive highly functioning team! However, it didn’t work in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or at any other time such an approach was applied to people management. So that’s where the team leader started to go wrong. That and making the claim for unfair dismissal in the first place.

Further in cross-examination he submitted that he had no real motive in making these comments and continued to do so because the young female temporary employees would laugh and did not tell him to stop, therefore he was not offending anybody. His evidence was that if they did not like it, they should have just said ‘stop’. He also submitted the employees could tell him anything, they could say “bad words” to him and because he could accept criticism they could tell him if they were offended but they didn’t.

So, according to the employee such behaviour isn’t the norm at Toyota, but those employees on the receiving end of his behaviour didn’t tell him to stop!! Where else have we heard such a defence? Oh yeah…that sounds like victim blaming?

Added to that behaviour were instances of him massaging employees, constructing intimate situations with female employees, participating in bawdy jokes, sexual related comments, and preferential treatment towards some of the employees.

Before writing the chap off completely, some of the employees involved did willingly participate in some of the behaviour, but most did not. The employee was responsible for a group of vulnerable young female employees whose future employment was reliant on his approval. He was responsible for developing and encouraging an environment in which inappropriate behaviour was expected and encouraged and even at the hearing demonstrated a complete lack of remorse or recognition of the seriousness of his conduct.

Anyway, two years later and after many days of hearing, the Commission dismissed his application finding that Toyota had a valid reason for the dismissal and that procedural fairness was applied to the situation. In coming to its decision, the Commission was very clear in finding the terminated employee was a witness of little credit whose evidence was self-serving and designed to deflect from his unacceptable behaviour.

The moral of the story?

Well after reviewing the decision there are probably several.

First, don’t let supervising employees behave inappropriately, particularly against younger temporary employees whose ongoing employment requires the involvement of that senior employee. Not a good look really.

Second, this decision evidences that no matter the size of the business, how much evidence was put forward, and how much HR resourcing is available, denial is not just a river in Egypt. However, the truth will eventually come out.

Third, and here is a tip for up and coming supervisors, team leaders and managers of people…don’t behave in a way that is inappropriate or that compromises yourself or your employer and don’t abuse any power imbalance in what is meant to be a professional relationship.

Author: Charles Watson, General Manager HR at Better HR



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