ACT News


No compo for woman who wouldn't work until boss was sacked

A Canberra public servant who refused to go to work unless her boss was sacked has lost the latest round of her fight for unfair dismissal compensation.

Ulla-Maija Dunkerley, who had a long history of workers' compensation claims, also insisted the Industry Department pay for her to study Federal compensation law as one of nine “unreasonable demands” to be met before she would come back to work.

She was fired last year after repeatedly refusing to go back to work, despite medical advice that she was fit to do her job, and the Fair Work Commission dismissed her unfair dismissal claim in December 2012.

Now Ms Dunkerley has failed in her bid to take her fight to an appeal before the Commission's full bench, with three senior Fair Work members finding there was no error of law in the December decision.

Ms Dunkerley's compensation battles with public service authorities go back to 2007 and have been played out in several courts and tribunals, including Fair Work Australia, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and all the way to the full bench of the Federal Court.

Her dismissal last year came after she insisted on the removal of a divisional head at the Department of Industry, as part of a list of "unreasonable demands" that would have to be met before she went back to her job.


Ms Dunkerley claimed she had been left traumatised from feedback provided by the now head of the department's corporate division, Michael Schwager, after Ms Dunkerley's failed bid for an executive level job three years ago.

She refused to work while Mr Schwager headed the division.

In June 2010, she failed in an attempt to force the Department of Industry, where she had been transferred, to pay for university fees after arguing before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that "study alleviated her stress and anxiety by offering her the social inclusion that had been denied in her workplace".

Later that month, the tribunal ruled that she was not entitled to compensation for distress caused by the feedback provided by Mr Schwager as part of the job application process.

Ms Dunkerley unsuccessfully appealed the tribunal's decision to the Federal Court and then to the Full Bench of the Federal Court.

She was eventually sacked from the Department of Industry in June 2012, after presenting her list of demands to her employers and refusing several times to return to work.

The former public servant appealed to Fair Work Australia for compensation, arguing she had been unfairly fired after being unable to return to a workplace which she claimed was hazardous to her health.

She also argued that the department unreasonably refused to make changes that would to allow her to go back to work.

But Fair Work Australia's commissioner Barbara Deegan backed the department, finding that Ms Dunkerley's demands were "unreasonable".

"Her wilful refusal to abide by her employer's directives to attend the workplace or to offer any proper medical evidence for her failure to do so was a valid reason for the termination," Ms Deegan wrote in her decision.

In their decision published on Monday senior Commission members Justice Alan Boulton, Bernie Riordan and Rodney Harrison rejected Ms Dunkerley's appeal, and supporting Commissioner Deegan's decision.

The applicant was dismissed for non-performance of duties and this was found by the Commissioner to be a valid reason for the termination of her employment.