Work relationship problems

Sometimes a workplace relationship breaks down to the point that people can no longer work together.

What is relationship breakdown?

When a work relationship breaks down so severely that you can no longer work with another person it is known as ‘incompatibility’.

If those involved cannot resolve the problem by themselves, it may be necessary to seek help from an independent third party like Employment Mediation Services.

In rare instances where the problem persists over time, and the disharmony makes the relationship unworkable, disciplinary action or dismissal may result.

Dismissal due to incompatibility

An employer may be able to dismiss an employee due to incompatibility if:

  • the relationship breakdown is due to an employee acting badly towards another employee, and warnings for them to stop their behaviour, and attempts to mediate, have been unsuccessful, and
  • the breakdown is largely the employee’s fault, and
  • the employer follows a fair process in taking action.

When the employer is at fault

If the breakdown is due largely to the employer’s actions or behaviour (for example, if they knew there was a problem but failed to respond in a timely and reasonable manner), they may not have grounds to dismiss the employee.

An employee can raise a personal grievance if they have been dismissed and

  • their employer did not have a good reason to dismiss them, or
  • the process was unfair.

Good reason

Fair process

If the relationship has broken down because the employee has been bullied, harassed or discriminated against, the process that the employer should follow may be different.

Bullying, harassment and discrimination

What an employee can do if a relationship breaks down

If an employee feels comfortable doing so, they can write to the person involved or speak directly to them with a support person present. Any outcomes should be recorded in writing.

If they are not comfortable dealing with the problem themselves or cannot reach an agreement about how to resolve it, they should report the behaviour to their manager or employer

If their manager or employer is the person they are having the relationship breakdown with, they should raise the complaint with human resources, their union or a lawyer.

How to resolve problems

Talking to your employer

What an employer can do about incompatibility

If talking about the problem has not solved it, an employer may:

  • ask the employee and the other party to go to mediation
  • try to find the employee, or the other party, another position within the company where they will not have to interact
  • undertake disciplinary action against, or dismiss, the person who is found to be causing the problem.


Disciplinary action

Ending employment

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