A series of inconsistent rulings before the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) relating to e-mail misuse in the workplace has led Clayton Utz senior workplace relations partner Joe Catanzariti to call for urgent legislation.
Catanzariti said the confidence of companies seeking to "do the right thing by their staff by cracking down on employee e-mail and Internet misconduct is being undermined".
He said companies that terminate employees for improperly using e-mail or the Internet in the workplace are not penalised because tribunal outcomes are inconsistent due to a lack of a formal legislative framework.
"Responsible companies are deeply concerned that industrial relations appeals tribunals are sending mixed signals to employees engaging in blatant misconduct by failing to reach consistent verdicts," he said.
"Both federal and state governments must cooperate to develop and implement a legislative framework that provides certainty to those companies prepared to adopt a hard line against employees caught improperly using e-mail or Internet systems."
Computerworld has obtained details of more than half a dozen IRC examples that vary broadly from case to case. Companies that have been unsuccessful during unfair dismissal claims before the tribunal include the Roads and Traffic Authority, the Bank of Western Australia, Pacific Access and Phillip Morris Ltd.
In all cases employees were dismissed for e-mail and Internet misuse, but the employer's cases were unsuccessful because rulings "are made case by case and determined without a set framework", according to Catanzariti.
A recent case earlier this year that was successful involved Qantas Airways which terminated an employee for sending an inappropriate e-mail that "compromised" the reputation of Qantas.
Toyota was also successful after terminating an employee for storing and transmitting pornographic images while Australian Water Technologies successfully terminated an employee for downloading pornography and accessing these sites "frequently and for lengthy periods of time".