1 min read

Settlement negotiations backfire for ex-employee

The Case

Scicluna v Australia Postal Corporation T/A Australia Post (2018)

The Australia Postal Corporation T/A Australia Post (Australia Post) terminated Mr Scicluna’s employment for misconduct. Mr Scicluna lodged an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

The FWC organised a conciliation conference to assist the parties to resolve the matter without proceeding to a hearing.

At the conciliation conference, the parties reached a settlement agreement. It was agreed that the employee would be permitted to resign and Australia Post would substitute this as the reason for employment termination. The conciliator drafted terms of settlement and sent them to Mr Scicluna and Australia Post for execution. Neither party signed the terms of settlement.

Mr Scicluna claimed that Australia Post had assured him that the conversion of his dismissal to a resignation would not have any effect on the workers’ compensation claim he had lodged before his dismissal. However, following the conciliation conference, Mr Scicluna’s workers’ compensation claim was denied on the basis he had resigned and failed “to continue in suitable employment”.

Mr Scicluna applied to the FWC to reopen his unfair dismissal claim on the ground that the settlement was not binding on him.

The Verdict

The FWC examined the history of the matter, reviewing the file notes and emails exchanged between the parties.

The FWC held:

  • a binding settlement agreement had been reached between the parties;
  • signed written terms of settlement were only a formality and were not necessary to make the settlement binding on the parties; and
  • that if Mr Scicluna’s workers’ compensation claim was impacted by the resignation, he should pursue this in that jurisdiction.

The Lessons

When conducting and participating in settlement negotiations, any oral terms agreed between you and the other party can be binding. It may assist to agree, that any agreement reached, will not be a binding agreement between the parties until the full terms of the agreement are recorded in writing, reviewed and executed by the parties.

Nevertheless, it is important not to agree orally to terms you are not sure you can comply with, do not have authority to accept (or offer) and/or do not wish to be bound by.

Please note: Case law is reported as correct and current at time of publishing. Be aware that cases in lower courts may be appealed and decisions subsequently overturned.

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