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Incompatibility

'Incompatibility' is where there is a fundamental breakdown in the relationship between two or more individuals in the workplace, so that they can no longer work together.

Ideally, any problems between staff members will be resolved by the parties concerned discussing their concerns and problems and coming to a workable agreement. If the parties can’t resolve the problem by themselves, it might be useful to engage an independent third party, or go to mediation.

There will be very rare instances where problems occurring over a period of time are so severe and the disharmony so serious that it becomes unworkable for the employee to stay in their roles. In those circumstances disciplinary action or dismissal of that employee is a possibility if:

  • the situation may not be fixable where an employee has a serious breakdown in the relationship with another employee who is acting badly towards them, despite warnings to stop their bad behaviour, and where attempts to mediate between the two have been unsuccessful.
  • the breakdown is at least largely the employee’s fault, and
  • the employer follows a fair process in taking action.

If the breakdown is largely due to the employer’s behaviour (eg if the employer has failed to get involved in a timely and reasonable manner), the employer may not be able dismiss the employee for something that is the employer’s fault.

An example of where the courts found that the employee could not be dismissed for incompatibility was when the employer was largely at fault. This was a situation where the employee was having difficulties with their manager and the employer was aware of the problems, but failed to address these earlier, or use mediation processes. The problem was only addressed when the employer began a disciplinary process against the employee.

Justifiably disciplining or dismissing an employee for incompatibility is very rare. This is an area where advice should be taken by both sides. The employer will need to consider very carefully any alternatives to the proposed action.

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