Qualified or cut! The Fair Work Commission finds a Pastoral Care Worker’s employment was lawfully terminated for not securing the necessary qualifications for her position
In the recent decision of Rachel Titley v Schools Ministry Group  FWC 7081, Deputy President Anderson of the Fair Work Commission (the Commission) held that an employee who had been repeatedly warned for failing to obtain the necessary qualifications of her employment was lawfully dismissed.
Ms Rachel Titley (Ms Titley) was employed by the School Ministry Group Incorporated (SMG) as a Pastoral Care Worker in regional South Australia. As part of her employment, Ms Titley was required to obtain a Certificate IV in Pastoral Care or Youth Work within 12 months of her commencement. Ms Titley initially commenced training to secure the Certificate IV, however failed to obtain the qualification within 12 months. As such, SMG terminated Ms Titley’s employment for failing to obtain the necessary qualification despite being formally warned on three occasions previously. Ms Titley filed an unfair dismissal application against SMG, seeking reinstatement or compensation for the alleged unfair termination of her employment.
Ms Titley submitted that she was unable to obtain the required qualification within the time frame due to personal reasons. Ms Titley submitted that she subsequently secured the necessary qualifications, albeit outside the specified timeframe. Ms Titley further submitted that SMG failed to follow a procedurally fair process. In particular, the three warnings issued to her had no specified timeframe for her to obtain the required qualification and that she received insufficient support from SMG despite informing SMG of her difficulties in obtaining the qualification.
Conversely, SMG submitted that Ms Titley’s employment was terminated due to her continual and repeated failure to obtain the required qualifications. SGM asserted they had reminded Ms Titley on numerous occasions to obtain the required qualification, which Ms Titley failed to follow, as it was an inherent requirement of her position.
Further, SMG submitted that they were under contractual obligations to ensure that all employees held the minimum qualification requirements of their position. SMG stated that they were required to employ Pastoral Care Workers who were “suitably qualified”, which Ms Titley was not.
Deputy President Anderson of the Commission held that Ms Titley had a mandatory obligation period to obtain the requirement qualifications for her position, yet failed to do so. The Commission emphasised that the need to obtain the qualification was a requirement of Ms Titley’s employment, and was neither “peripheral nor incidental”.
Further, the Commission held that a Pastoral Care Worker or any employee who has failed to obtain such qualifications must not hold themselves out as being qualified to perform the duties of that position. Importantly, the Commission emphasised the significance of the required qualifications outweighs whether an employee was performing their duties to the satisfaction of their employee. The Commission held that it was Ms Titley’s obligation to continue to actively secure the necessary qualification, but she failed to do so despite numerous warnings from SMG.
The Commission considered SMG had not followed a completely procedurally fair process. In particular, SMG’s decision to terminate Ms Titley’s employment was made hastily in response to Ms Titley’s lack of responsiveness to the warnings. However the Commission considered these failings were at a micro level, and did not prevent procedural fairness to Ms Titley as a whole.
In any event, the Commission held that Ms Titley’s failure to meet the inherent requirements of her employment resulted in the erosion of trust and confidence between the parties. As such, the Commission held that the termination of Ms Titley’s employment was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable.
Take home messages
This case serves as a timely reminder for employers to ensure that employees are not holding themselves out as being qualified to perform their duties, when in reality they have not obtained the necessary qualifications for their positions.
Employers should ensure they meet with employees who are undertaking any required trainings to discuss their progress. Further, employers should ensure employees undertaking training are cognisant that failure to obtain the necessary qualifications by a specified due date may result in the termination of their employment. In any event, employers must ensure that any decisions regarding an employee’s employment follows a procedurally fair process.
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