Skip to content

Overstepping boundaries: Can you be dismissed for exceeding your duties as an employee?

By Trent Hancock, Principal, Jewell Hancock Employment Lawyers

  • An employee assumed responsibilities outside of her area of responsibility.
  • The employee was terminated after 18 months of tension with a co-worker.
  • Fair Work Commission found repeated failure to do what was asked and overstepping boundaries to be a valid reason for dismissal.

A New South Wales employee recently challenged their termination after their employer alleged repeated disregard for company processes and designated roles.

The employee, who performed administration tasks, including reception duties, appointment scheduling, accounts, and client service agreements, was terminated after 18 months of tension with a co-worker. The conflict started after the new team member was brought on board and assumed some of the same responsibilities. After being told to step back from assisting the co-worker, the employee received three warnings emphasising the need to ‘stay within her lane’ and highlighting that she was not adhering to set processes and following up on tasks not within her job scope.

Ultimately, the employer dismissed the employee, citing continuous disregard for processes and procedures, concerns about her conduct toward other staff members and completion of roles specifically requested not to.

Was the dismissal unfair?

In reaching their decision, Commissioner McKinnon said that the employee’s conduct ‘in repeatedly failing to do as she had been asked and overstepping the boundaries that had been set for her was a valid reason for the dismissal.’

Despite this, the employee was successful in their claim because the deficient process followed by the employer made her dismissal unreasonable.

Commissioner McKinnon highlighted that ‘the difficulty for [the employer] is that while it gave [her] a warning about her conduct in relation to ‘not completing set processes as required, despite many conversations about how the role was split’, it never told her that she was at risk of being dismissed if there was no improvement in her conduct.’

‘The closest the business came was telling [the worker] that her failure to follow instructions would lead to ‘performance management,’ was ‘serious’ and could have ‘serious consequences.’ This was not sufficient because it did not raise the prospect of dismissal directly.’

Overstepping boundaries

While this employee was successful in their claim due to issues with how their employer handled the termination, it is important to note that the Fair Work Commission did find repeated failure to do what was asked and overstepping boundaries to be a valid reason for dismissal.

Commissioner McKinnon accepted that the employee in this case genuinely thought she was acting in the best interests of the business but noted it was not her role or responsibility to decide what was best for the business, particularly where her decisions conflicted with clear instructions from the employer.

Trent Hancock can be contacted on

Material published in Governance Directions is copyright and may not be reproduced without permission. The views expressed therein are those of the author and not of Governance Institute of Australia. All views and opinions are provided as general commentary only and should not be relied upon in place of specific accounting, legal or other professional advice.

Enhanced sustainability reporting hitting APAC: Navigating the TCFD to ISSB uplift

Next article