A Sydney travel agency has been found guilty of unfairly dismissing a pregnant employee, although claims that the pregnancy was the reason for the sacking have been rejected.
Bernice Zhang alleged that her former employer, GTS Travel Management (trading in Sydney as Green Travel Service) had wrongfully terminated her employment after she was rushed to hospital with a pregnancy-related medical condition.
Ms Zhang had worked for the company for more than three years when she was admitted to her local hospital’s emergency ward on 11 September 2017. She informed her supervisor of the situation via text message, and did not attend work for two days as a result of the issue.
She subsequently returned to work on 13 September, but had her employment terminated effective from the following day.
GTS Travel Management asserted that the timing had nothing to do with Ms Zhang’s dismissal, which it said pertained to poor performance.
Ms Zhang responded that her workload was constrained by a colleague being away on leave, and that she had not been given any warning or negative feedback.
“I am not satisfied that the Respondent brought its concerns about the Applicant’s performance to her attention in a manner that was clear and unequivocal,” Commissioner Leigh Johns said in handing down the verdict.
As such, Ms Zhang’s dismissal was found to be “inconsistent with the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code” and was in fact “harsh, unjust and unreasonable”.
However the commissioner also dismissed Ms Zhang’s claim that it was due to her pregnancy that she was ultimately dismissed.
The company was ordered to pay compensation to Ms Zhang to the sum of $19,831.73.
GTS Travel Management’s finance manager, identified as Peter Sheng, then tried to appeal the decision.
“We don’t agree that the termination of the Applicant’s employment lacked a valid reason and was harsh and unjust, thus the order that GTS Travel Management pay Bernice Zhang $19,831.73 as a remedy [is] inappropriate,” Mr Sheng said.
“[T]he investor is now feeling heartbroken that the company has to continuously to be suffered from further financial losses from this unfair judgment made by Commissioner John[s].
“Now the investor is feeling so disappointed with this substantial order of remedy, which would dim his passion and enthusiasm [to] keep running business in Australia.
Mr Sheng added: “We sincerely seek Fair Work Commission to reduce the consideration to be paid to applicant accordingly for the best interest of the current employees of the company as well as the foreign investor’s interest.”
The appeal was dismissed on the grounds that no new evidence was provided as part of the appeal.
In responding to the attempted appeal, Ms Zhang asserted that suggestions the business was small and unable to pay the penalty were unfounded.
She said that the company is owned by Singapore-based SingXpress, which itself is owned by Hong Kong-listed Xpress Group that has a market value of over $400 million.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.