Unfair Dismissal: Navigating the Complexities of HR Management with Digital Solutions and Human Expertise

Unfair Dismissal: Navigating the Complexities of HR Management with Digital Solutions and Human Expertise


In the landmark case of Rebecca Whiffen v Sense Rugby Pty Ltd [2023] FWC 2516, the complexities of navigating human resource management through digital platforms came to the forefront. This case underscores the evolving landscape of HR management, particularly for small businesses that increasingly rely on online HR services for efficiency and cost-effectiveness. While these digital solutions offer numerous advantages, the Sense Rugby case exemplifies how the absence of human oversight in HR processes can lead to significant legal and operational pitfalls.


Sense Rugby Pty Ltd, a small business specialising in rugby-based occupational therapy for children with disabilities, employed Ms. Rebecca Whiffen from 30 March 2021 until her dismissal on 29 June 2023. Throughout her tenure, Whiffen’s role evolved, initially encompassing a broad range of clerical duties, which were gradually narrowed down as new staff members took over some of her responsibilities. The situation escalated when Whiffen was instructed to limit her involvement with her new colleague, Ms. Mikic’s duties, leading to a series of conflicts that ultimately resulted in her dismissal for alleged misconduct, primarily through not adhering to specified job boundaries and processes.

What Happened and the Outcome

Whiffen’s termination was predicated on her supposed continuous lack of engagement with set processes and inappropriate conduct towards team members. The dismissal was facilitated through the use of Happy HR, a third-party software platform used by Sense Rugby for managing its HR functions. This platform provided Sense Rugby with the tools to issue formal communications, including warnings and the termination letter, directly to Whiffen. Challenging her dismissal, Whiffen brought her case to the Fair Work Commission (FWC), arguing that her termination was unfair.

The Court’s Findings

The FWC sided with Whiffen, ruling that her dismissal was both inconsistent with the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code and harsh, unjust, or unreasonable. The Commission highlighted several procedural shortcomings in the dismissal process, including inadequate warnings and failure to provide a clear risk of dismissal for non-compliance. Furthermore, the reliance on Happy HR software was scrutinised for its lack of human insight in managing sensitive employment issues.

Lessons Learned

This case serves as a critical learning point for small business owners, emphasising the following:

  1. While online HR platforms like Happy HR are valuable for streamlining administrative tasks, they cannot replace the nuanced understanding and decision-making capabilities of human HR professionals, especially in complex situations.


  1. Adhering to legal standards and ensuring procedural fairness is paramount. This includes proper documentation, clear communication of job expectations and potential consequences, and providing employees with opportunities to respond to allegations.
  2. Incorporating human judgment into HR processes can mitigate risks associated with solely relying on software, ensuring that decisions are made with a comprehensive understanding of the circumstances.
  3. Small businesses should consider investing in HR consultancy services for guidance on complex matters, which can be more cost-effective in the long run by avoiding potential legal challenges.
  4. Regular training for both management and staff on employment rights, duties, and HR processes can foster a more harmonious and legally compliant workplace environment.

Advice for Small Business Owners

As we navigate the complexities of human resource management in today’s digital age, the case of Rebecca Whiffen v Sense Rugby Pty Ltd serves as a poignant reminder of the balance needed between leveraging technology and ensuring the human touch in HR processes. While online HR services offer convenience and efficiency, they cannot fully replace the nuanced understanding and empathetic judgment that human professionals bring to the table, especially in sensitive areas like staff performance management and dismissal procedures.

For small business owners, this case underscores the critical need for not only adhering to legal and procedural fairness but also for seeking professional advice and support in managing staff performance matters. It’s clear that the right blend of technology and expert HR guidance can help businesses navigate the complexities of employment law and maintain a harmonious, productive workplace.


Are you looking to enhance your HR management practices? Do you need coaching and training to effectively manage staff performance matters? MMC HR offers comprehensive support tailored to small businesses. We can provide you with the coaching, training, and ongoing support necessary to navigate staff performance issues with confidence and legal compliance. Whether it’s developing effective performance management strategies, navigating the complexities of employment law, or integrating HR technologies with a human touch, MMC HR is here to support your business’s growth and success.

Contact us or hello@mmchr.comau



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