Financial woes can't spare Blenners from hefty compensation payment

Blenners ordered to cough up more than $31,000 for sacking manager, despite owner raising concerns about viability of business

Financial woes can't spare Blenners from hefty compensation payment
Financial woes can’t spare Blenners from hefty compensation payment

By Brad Gardner | June 20, 2013

Blenners Transport has been lumped with a compensation payment exceeding $30,000 for unfairly sacking its manager, despite raising concerns a payout could affect the business’s viability.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) this week awarded Stephen Gleeson $31,812.80 after ruling last month Blenners failed to follow correct procedures when terminating him in 2012.

Owner Les Blennerhassett asked FWC to limit compensation to $4,572.82 and argued there had been "a significant downturn in business" and Blenners was grappling with "a significant number of bad debts".

In a written submission to the FWC and obtained by ATN, Blennerhassett claimed his firm had to absorb a bad debt of $60,000 and was dealing with cash flow issues because customers were taking 60 days to settle accounts.

But it failed to sway Commissioner Paula Spencer, who says the submission contradicted evidence Blennerhassett gave at last month’s hearing.

When asked if his company was in any financial difficulty, Blennerhassett responded: "None whatsoever."

Gleeson was seeking $42,500 in compensation but the amount was reduced to account for earnings he made since losing his job, along with a payment he received in lieu of notice upon termination.

Furthermore, Spencer reduced the final figure based on the likelihood a medical condition would have forced Gleeson to take time off work.

"The Commission accepts that the evidence is that the Applicant has had a period of medical difficulties which have affected his ability to undertake work," Spencer’s written judgment says.

Gleeson says the Department of Transport and Main Roads’ ongoing chain of responsibility investigation into Blenners exacerbated his medical condition.

"As to what effect this ongoing stress would have had on the Applicant’s medical condition is not known. However it is likely that the Applicant would have had a period of illness, given his previous concessions (of the effect of the investigation on him)," Spencer says.

The department began its investigation in February last year and conducted interviews relating to fatigue management.

Previously, Spencer found that Blenners did not comply with the Fair Work Act when dismissing Gleeson.

He was not made aware of alleged complaints about his performance, was not given an opportunity to argue against termination or given the option of having a support person present.

Blennerhassett wanted Gleeson’s level of compensation reduced in recognition of an email he sent to senior managers while in the job. Spencer found that the "belligerent" missive contributed to Gleeson’s sacking but she decided against penalising him for it.

"No deduction is made in relation to misconduct to account for the particular difficulties that the Applicant has endured given his medical condition, family circumstances and relocation expenses incurred to take up this position," she says.

She also rejected the company’s request for compensation to be paid in six fortnightly instalments. Instead, Spencer ordered Blenners to pay Gleeson the full amount by July 2.

Blennerhassett declined to comment on the unfair dismissal matter or the chain of responsibility investigation when contacted by ATN today.

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