An expletive laden email tirade over last year’s ill-fated census directed at the boss of the Australian Bureau of Statistics has cost a university employee his job.
The Murdoch University employee wrote to ABS Australian statistician David Kalisch in August of last year complaining about the controversial move to store data from the census.
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“Who the f— do you think you are changing the scope of the census by collecting my family members’ personal data electronically to be stored indefinitely,” the employee wrote in an email from his work email address.
“My family’s personal information is none of your f—ing business! I worked in IT Mr Kalisch and know (sic) you won’t (actually can’t) keep that data safe.”
According to a Fair Work Commission judgment released on Wednesday, the employee then went on to complain that the government had been “illegally spying” on his family’s emails, phone conversations and “god knows what else”.
He suggests the ABS use that data instead of compelling him to participate and “put that in your f—ing Census!”
The email was copied to a federal member of parliament.
Within hours the ABS had written to the university complaining about the email.
David Kalisch Australian Statistician Australian Bureau of Statistics appeared before the Economics References Committee public hearing into the 2016 Census at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 25 October 2016. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew Meares
“Irrespective of their personal opinions, I feel sure that you would expect a higher standard of conduct from staff engaging under the signature block and logo of your esteemed institution,” the complaint read.
Several days later the employee wrote again to Mr Kalisch pointing to media reports that the ABS census site had been hacked.
A Murdoch University staffer has been fired over abusive emails. Photo: Bohdan Warchomij
“No mention from you Mr Kalisch that any data was stolen during last night’s DOS attack – positive about that are you? With hundreds of millions of dollars at your disposal you can’t keep the servers safe for one night but I’m supposed to entrust you with my family’s personal data storage for years?” the email says.
He then taunts the ABS to fine him for not filling in the census.
“Please send me a fine, PLEASE, I really want to have my day in court now you bunch of fucking buffoons!”
When he was investigated the employee insisted his use of the university’s email was inadvertent and not intended to harm the university.
“It was submitted that at most the emails were negligent, unprofessional and based on poor judgement, but the conduct was not malicious,” the judgment says.
The employee told a commission hearing that it “did not cross his mind which email account he was using”.
He also claimed there was no evidence his actions had harmed his employer despite the emails being posted on Twitter by a journalist.
The university testified that the employee had already had a formal warning over sending an inappropriate email to a colleague and that the conduct was highly “inappropriate and unacceptable”.
In summing up his judgment Commissioner Geoffrey Bull said he had “no difficulty” deciding that the emails provided a valid reason for dismissal.
“While the language used by Mr Hayes may be common vernacular in some circles, when reduced to writing and addressed to a specific recipient not personally known to Mr Hayes, such language has an element of intentional abuse and cannot be regarded under any circumstances as acceptable language,” he said.
The emails could also have caused reputational damage especially after they surfaced on Twitter, he said.
The misconduct was wilful and constituted a serious impediment to the carrying out the employee’s duties, he said.
Commissioner Bull said the defence of inadvertence was not plausible for a professional employee.
“Mr Hayes’ service was not unblemished, his approach to the investigation was less than co-operative and it is difficult to identify any genuine contrition,” he said.
In throwing out the unfair dismissal case, Commissioner Bull noted that the employee was paid four weeks termination pay and paid out his accrued leave.