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Are employee claims always crystal clear? If not…what do you do?

Shanni Zoeller

When an employee makes a claim against their employer, you should know exactly what the claim is, the evidence they intend to rely on and the remedy or outcome they seek. However, what happens if all these things aren’t clear? How are you supposed to put your best case forward?

These issues were considered in the case of Haque v Jabella Group [2016].

Mr Haque was a self-represented litigant who made an application to the Federal Circuit Court alleging that his former employer, Jabella, and its director, Mr Baker, had contravened the Fair Work Act, the Industrial Relations Act and the Independent Contractors Act. The application did not specify what sections of the Acts were breached, or how.

Mr Haque’s claims against his former employer included the below:

The Respondents applied to have Mr Haque’s claim summarily dismissed, on the basis that it was “frivolous or vexatious, or an abuse of process.” It argued that:

“the applicant’s claims are “clearly vexatious” as they do not identify or clarify, in a fair and meaningful manner, the claim brought against the respondents; do not identify the basis of a cause of action or provide necessary particulars; “dumps” a story on the Court and expects the parties to “guess” the claim; contains “irrelevant matter[s]; does not seek “relief” that the Court is capable of granting and “has no reasonable prospects of success”… the proceedings “appear to be futile” and are a waste of “Court time and resources and that the proceedings should be dismissed.”

The Outcome

The Court dismissed Mr Haque’s application on the basis that the material he provided was “for the most part, impenetrable, and in part, incoherent.” Further, “Mr Haque’s approach to the substantive proceedings had been to seek to shift the burden of articulating a coherent case both as to facts, and the law, to the Court.”

Although the Court noted that Mr Haque was a self-represented litigant and not legally trained, it was still not its role to “make sense” of the “large volumes of narrative written questions” put in front of it and identify what he sought when the he had not put his material in some sort of order to express an understandable case.

Key Lessons

An applicant needs to identify his or her case with sufficient particularity, so that the other party understands the case it needs to answer. It is not the Court’s role or responsibility to construct a case for the applicant. Rather, its purpose is to decide the appropriate remedy on the available facts and evidence provided in support of an identifiable case.

If faced with an incoherent claim, an employer can ask the court to strike the claim out or order that the claimant to amend it so that the claim can be understood.

If you are looking for advice in relation to making or managing an employee claim, please contact a member of the Coleman Greig Employment Law team: