Parent sacked during COVID-19 awarded $12k

·2-min read

A Melbourne dental assistant has been awarded $12,000, after she was sacked during the COVID-19 pandemic while forced to homeschool her children.

Fiona Carpenter took her former employer Pearly Whites to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, claiming she was discriminated against because of her family responsibilities and a broken foot.

Tribunal member Ian Scott rejected her claim she was discriminated against based on her injury and sex, but agreed she was subjected to unlawful discrimination because of her parental status.

Ms Carpenter was home-schooling her children because of COVID-19 restrictions in July 2020 when her boss, principal dentist Terry Wong, advised her of her termination.

She had been working as a casual dentist assistant at the practice for more than three years by that point.

Mr Wong told Ms Carpenter via email that her sacking was partly down to "the current challenging circumstances" and the need for "more stability" in the workplace.

He also pointed to the fact he hired a new permanent staff member, and told the tribunal he wanted to save on employment costs and let one of his casual workers go.

Mr Wong alleged Ms Carpenter had issues with other staff and said he considered each of his casual employees' working relationship with the practice in deciding who to let go.

He rejected the suggestion his use of the word stability referred to Ms Carpenter's availability; however, the tribunal member disagreed, saying it must have referred to him wanting staff to be more available as needed.

Mr Scott said he had to interpret Mr Wong's use of "the current challenging circumstances" in his email as referring to Ms Carpenter's availability, or lack thereof.

The tribunal member also pointed out that, while Mr Wong claimed he needed to save on employment costs, Ms Carpenter was a casual employee and only paid when she worked.

"(Mr Wong) also gave evidence that he 'didn't believe the Government should pay someone who couldn't work' which is a reference to the Applicant being on JobKeeper payments," Mr Scott said.

The tribunal member found the true reason for Ms Carpenter's dismissal must have been her family responsibilities and limited work availability.

As a result, he found the dental practice discriminated against Ms Carpenter because of her parental status.

Mr Wong also contravened the Equal Opportunity Act because he instructed and or authorised the practice to breach the legislation, Mr Scott said.

He ordered that the practice and Mr Wong pay Ms Carpenter a total $12,000 in damages.

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