Mental health issues not a shield against discipline and dismissal

By Tarsha Gavin, Julia Hong
Employment & Safety

In brief 2 min read

The Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission decided that an employer's decision to dismiss an employee with known mental illness issues was fair.1

How does it affect you?

  • The fact that an employee has mental health issues doesn't prevent an employer from taking disciplinary action if the employee has engaged in misconduct.
  • Employers seeking to dismiss an employee must be able to demonstrate that there is no connection between the reasons for termination and the employee's mental health issues, or that the mental health issues don't outweigh the fact that the serious misconduct constitutes a valid reason for their dismissal.


An employee of Monash University, Mr Meaney, was summarily dismissed in December 2017, following a number of incidents where he had behaved and spoken angrily and aggressively to colleagues, and also drove a vehicle recklessly and unsafely on campus.

Before his dismissal, Mr Meaney had informally advised the university on several occasions that he suffered mental health issues, and a doctor's report he obtained before his dismissal identified he had an adjustment disorder, with anxiety.

Mr Meaney lodged an unfair dismissal application following his dismissal. At first, the FWC decided that, while there was a valid reason for his dismissal, on balance it was harsh for Monash to have had recourse to dismissal, given Mr Meaney’s mental health issues. As the university was aware of his mental health issues, it should have dealt with his conduct using methods other than discipline and dismissal.

The decision - no causality between the mental health and the misconduct

The university appealed the decision to the Full Bench of the FWC and won. The Full Bench decided that the Commissioner had initially given disproportionate weight to Mr Meaney's mental health issues when assessing the harshness of the dismissal. Importantly, although the university had knowledge of his mental health condition, there was no evidence that showed a causal link between Mr Meaney's condition and his misconduct. Further, the behaviour was of such a serious nature that the university's decision to use a disciplinary process was 'self-evident'.

The Full Bench also decided that the Commissioner made erroneous factual findings when deciding that Mr Meaney didn't drive in a dangerous and erratic manner, and also in determining that his intimidating conduct towards colleagues didn't constitute a course of abusive and aggressive conduct, given the multiple instances where Mr Meaney threatened physical harm against staff.

The matter will be reheard.


  1. Monash University v Michael Meaney [2019] FWCFB 2978; Michael Meaney v Monash University [2018] FWC 5796.