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Breach of employment contract

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia (formerly the Federal Magistrates Court), like the Federal Court of Australia, has jurisdiction to deal with common law actions such as breach of contract, provided that there is also an associated federal flavoured issue also before it. Thus the Federal Court can decide common law claims such as tort, for example a damages claim for misrepresentation, when the applicant sues also for misleading and deceptive conduct under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

In a very interesting case*, with potentially massive implications for employers and employees, the Federal Circuit Court delivered a decision on 31 January 2014 in which it awarded damages to an employee for breach of contract, namely a failure to provide reasonable notice of termination of employment, in proceedings brought by the employee based upon an argument that the employer had contravened the Workplace Relations Act 1996 by unlawfully terminating the applicant’s employment in providing no notice of termination when the applicant’s conduct did not support a summary dismissal.

What is most surprising about the case is that the Court awarded the common law damages even though it ruled that the federal component of the claim, the allegation of a contravention of the Workplaces Relations Act, should be dismissed because the applicant had not obtained a certificate that the dispute had first been before conciliation in the then Australian Industrial Relations Commission, the same procedure required now before proceedings alleging a contravention of the general protections provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 can be instigated in the Federal Circuit Court.

* Miller v Sunland Park Pty Ltd (2014 FCCA) 89

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