Resources: Blog

Dishonesty in the workplace and the potential ramifications


Big Little Lies

If dishonesty does find its way into the workplace, employers must act swiftly and hold employees accountable where necessary, so that it does not become a part of the workplace culture.

In order for any employment relationship to function, there needs to a level of mutual trust and confidence between employers and employees. It is often said that this goes to the very “heart” of the employment relationship. Indeed, employees need to trust that their employers will act honestly and not take advantage of them in the same way that employers need to trust that their employees will also act honestly and in the best interests of the business.

It is, unfortunately, not uncommon for either party to assume that a small white lie can have very little or no real consequence for the employment relationship. However, a recent decision of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has shown that lying is no trivial matter and can have very serious consequences for both parties.

In Wiburd v Grandbridge Limited [2018] FWC 1900, the FWC heard an unfair dismissal application made by a Personal Assistant (PA) who had been summarily dismissed by her employer for lying to its Managing Director (MD) about the whereabouts of one of its other Directors.

The employee was the MD’s PA but was also quite close with the other Director.

In or about November 2016, the MD came across emails between the PA and the Director in which the Director had asked the PA to lie to the MD and “cover” for her being late. In one particular email, she asked the PA to turn her computer on and place a coffee at her desk to make it look like she had been in the office. The email chains confirmed that the PA had done so. The emails also showed that the Director and PA had often discussed how much they hated the MD and that he was “disgusting”.

The MD’s discovery of these emails was, however, part of a much bigger discovery of a plan by the Director (along with directors from associated entities) to oust the MD from his role in one of the associated entities.

As soon as he made this discovery, the MD took steps to remove the Director from her position with the employer and sought to dismiss the PA for lying to him as evidenced in the emails he had discovered. The MD gave evidence before the FWC that, at this point in time, he felt he could not trust anybody and had to dismiss them immediately.

It was later revealed that the Director had exercised voting rights without the MD’s knowledge in order to remove him as the MD of the associated entity. It was also revealed that the Director had asked the PA to place a password on the record of votes so that the MD could not get access to them.

The PA claimed that her dismissal was unfair because:

  • she was not aware of the Director’s larger plan;
  • whilst she did lie to the MD, the matters that she was dishonest about were very trivial in the total scheme of things; and
  • she thought she was following directions from a director whom she considered to be her boss.

Noting that the employer was a small business, the FWC was required to determine whether the employer had complied with the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code. Under the Code, it is necessary to determine whether the employer held a belief that the employee’s conduct was sufficiently serious to justify immediate dismissal and whether that belief was held on reasonable grounds.

The FWC considered the circumstances as a whole and found that it was readily open for the MD to form the belief that the PA had deceived him and that she was clearly willing to lie to him on behalf of the Director, given their close relationship.

The FWC noted that the PA had a duty of fidelity to her employer – not to the Director – which required her to be honest.

In upholding the dismissal, the FWC stated at paragraph [81]:

“To cause an employer to believe something that was not true is not trivial conduct. Such conduct went to the very heart of the duty [the PA] owed to Grandbridge, to be honest. The surrounding circumstances cannot be ignored.”


Lessons for employers

In order to ensure that dishonesty does not become an issue in the workplace, employers should develop an environment in which honest and open communication is encouraged (by both managers and employees) and that employees are made aware of the potential consequences of lying to their employer.

If dishonesty does find its way into the workplace, employers must act swiftly and hold employees accountable where necessary, so that it does not become a part of the workplace culture.

An employer’s reaction to an employee who has been dishonest will always vary depending on the context. Some situations will warrant little disciplinary action whilst others, such as the case above, will warrant summary dismissal. It is incumbent upon the employer to investigate any dishonesty thoroughly and ensure that it has all of the information necessary to make a reasonable decision regarding further action.


Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog, or from links on this website to any external website. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

Similar articles

Employer acted “entirely reasonably” when terminating employee who worked flexible hours

Let’s get flexible

It is not uncommon for employers and employees to agree to flexible working hours, particularly in circumstances where the employee has family or other caring responsibilities. Such arrangements are best recorded in writing, setting out clear expectations of the employee.


Commission finds termination letter sent to inactive email address was not notification of dismissal

You've got mail!

Given the serious nature of matters such as dismissals, employers should, as far as reasonably practicable, communicate such matters in person to ensure that there is no confusion about when the employee was made aware of any issues with their employment.


Employee dismissed for exercising workplace right to take leave

Diamonds are not a girl’s best friend

The general protections provisions under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) provide protections against adverse action which is taken for a prohibited reason. Prohibited reasons for taking adverse action include situations where a person has a workplace right and exercises (or proposes to exercise) that right. Workplace rights include the right to utilise leave entitlements under the FW Act.


Commission finds mask mandate to be a lawful and reasonable direction

Mask up

Employees have a duty to comply with lawful and reasonable directions from their employer. In the current COVID-19 context, a key concern for employers is whether it is lawful and reasonable to issue directions related to safety matters arising from the pandemic.


Lack of consultation rendered mandatory vaccination requirement unreasonable

Talk before you walk

Consultation with employees always plays an important part when introducing changes in the workplace. Under work health and safety legislation, employers have a duty to consult with their workers as far as reasonably practicable in relation to health and safety matters.


Offers of alternative employment in redundancy cases

An offer you can refuse

In most cases of redundancy, employers have an obligation to consult with affected employees about the proposed redundancy and consider whether or not anything can be done to mitigate or minimise the impact on the employee, such as redeployment or obtaining other acceptable employment for the employee.


Let's talk

please contact our directors to discuss how ouR expertise can help your business.

We're here to help

Contact Us
Let Workplace Law become your partner in Workplace Relations.

Signup to receive the latest industry updates with commentary from the Workplace Law team direct to you inbox.