Self-Representation – Is it a good idea?

Businesses like to keep their costs down, so if faced with an unfair dismissal or other type of claim, it can sometimes be tempting to not engage experienced or legal representatives to support the business. But is it a good idea?

In a word, no, probably not. A recent case in the Fair Work Commission highlights serves illustrates the point.

The case involved an unfair dismissal claim in which the employee was represented by a lawyer but the Managing Director of the business chose to represent the business himself.

The case started with a telephone conciliation conference, as they generally do, in which the employer could have settled the matter there and then for 2 weeks' pay. It appears this was agreed by both parties but the employer subsequently reneged on the agreement and refused to make the payment. The matter then proceeded to arbitration, a formal court hearing which the employer ultimately lost and was ordered to pay compensation of $10,695 or approximately 13 weeks' pay.

Businesses may want to save money or may see lawyers as unnecessary in such proceedings but those without a working understanding of the rules of evidence, legal privilege or the Fair Work Act, or those without experience in court advocacy, will often not be able to effectively protect the business's legal interests.

To add insult to injury, the former employee then sought an order for costs against the business arguing it had acted unreasonably during the proceedings. The Managing Director represented the business again during the costs hearing. The Fair Work Commission agreed with the former employee, finding that the business had acted unreasonably when it reneged on what it considered to be an entirely reasonable settlement at the Conciliation stage without any proper basis for doing so. The Fair Work Commission ordered the employer to pay a further $3,000 in costs in addition to the compensation payable.

The bottom line? Business owners facing an unfair dismissal or similar claim would be wise to engaging an experienced representative or lawyer rather than trying to represent themselves in forums such as the Fair Work Commission.

Should your business be served with an unfair dismissal or other claim, contact HR Success in the first instance and we can advise you further.
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