An Australian woman was fired from a major insurance company after the company used keystroke technology on her work laptop to verify if she adhered to her assigned working hours, resulting in a negative outcome for her. The woman then filed an unfair dismissal application against her employer.
However, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has dismissed an unfair dismissal claim brought by Suzie Cheikho, a former consultant at Insurance Australia Group (IAG). The FWC determined that her termination was justified due to misconduct. Per the commission's official findings, Cheikho's responsibilities encompassed tasks such as generating insurance documents, adhering to regulatory deadlines, and overseeing "work from home compliance," along with other notable responsibilities.
Not Working from Home
Ironically, her own remote work performance ultimately led to the end of her 18-year tenure with the company.
Based on the FWC's findings, Cheikho's dismissal on February 20 was attributed to her failure to meet deadlines and attend meetings, her unavailability and lack of communication, and her inability to complete a task that resulted in a fine being imposed on IAG by the industry regulator.
One month later, Cheikho claimed to the FWC that her employer had a "premeditated plan to remove her from the business and that she was targeted due to her mental health issues."
As per the information available online, Cheikho was issued a formal warning in November 2022 on growing concerns about her productivity and was subsequently placed on a performance improvement plan.
Her computer activity underwent a thorough examination, which involved analyzing the frequency of her keyboard usage on 49 workdays spanning from October to December.
The analysis revealed that she did not fulfill her scheduled hours for 44 days, started her work late on 47 days, finished work early on 29 days, and recorded zero hours of work on 4 days.
Moreover, she had "very low keystroke activity" on the days she did log on and had zero keystrokes recorded over 117 hours in October, 143 hours in November and 60 hours in December.
Throughout the monitoring period, Cheikho maintained an average of 54 keystrokes per hour, a pattern that indicated she wasn't consistently engaging in her work responsibilities as required.
In a formal meeting regarding the review, Cheikho stated that she did "not believe for a minute" the data was accurate but provided no proof that she had been working or using the internet when the report indicated that she hadn't.
"Sometimes the workload is a bit slow, but I have never not worked," she told her managers, according to the FWC findings.
"I mean, I may go to the shops from time to time, but that is not for the entire day. I need to take some time to consider this and I will put forward a response."
Cheikho replied in writing that she had examined the data to find a reason for the hours that were missing but "really can't recall why or how it's that low."
"I have tried to go through emails and messages to see if I can explain it," she wrote.
"I have been going through a lot of personal issues which has caused a decline to my mental health and unfortunately I believe it has affected my performance and my work."
Cheikho claimed that despite having "a few things going on" because of an ailment, she always began on time.
She said that when she had medical appointments, she would notify bosses via a Teams message and "make up the time afterward."
She claimed to be "confused and shocked" by the data, to have questioned its accuracy, and to have logged in using devices other than her laptop when she experienced "system issues."
Cheikho reportedly attended one Microsoft Teams meeting with her manager evaluating her performance while writing the word "F—k" across her hand, according to the FWC decision.
Thomas Roberts, the deputy president of the FWC, decided that Cheikho "was not working as she was required to do during her designated working hours" while being monitored.
It was found that Cheikho was unable to offer a plausible explanation for the data both to her employers and during the FWC proceedings.
Roberts noted that despite Cheikho's claims that she used her phone for specific tasks, her employer had established the necessity for her to use her laptop in order to fulfill her job responsibilities.
"The applicant was dismissed for a valid reason of misconduct," Roberts wrote.
"I have little doubt that the factors underlying the applicant's disconnection from work were serious and real."
"Nonetheless ... I am satisfied that the dismissal of the applicant was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable."
"The applicant's application is therefore dismissed."