In a startling turn of events, a woman’s work-from-home situation took a dire twist when a major insurance company employed keystroke technology to scrutinize her productivity.
The consequences were dire, leading to her dismissal after a lengthy 18-year tenure.
The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has ruled that the termination was justified due to misconduct, and the case sheds light on the delicate balance between remote work and employer expectations.
Suzie Cheikho, a former consultant at Insurance Australia Group (IAG), found herself entangled in this controversy.
Responsible for pivotal tasks such as generating insurance documents, adhering to regulatory timelines, and ensuring work-from-home compliance, Cheikho’s career was seemingly on the rise. However, her remote work performance ultimately triggered her downfall.
As per the FWC’s findings, Cheikho’s dismissal on February 20th was prompted by a string of concerning factors. She had missed critical deadlines and meetings, displayed a pattern of absence and unavailability, and even failed to complete an assignment that resulted in a penalty for IAG imposed by industry regulators.
These missteps culminated in her termination, which was based on valid grounds.
The aftermath of Cheikho’s firing saw her alleging that her employer harbored premeditated intentions to oust her from the organization. She claimed that her mental health issues made her a target. Amidst these claims, a deeper investigation into her conduct unfolded.
Earlier, in November 2022, Cheikho had received a formal warning about her performance, followed by placement on a performance improvement plan. It was during this time that her cyber activities were subjected to meticulous scrutiny. The company analyzed her keystroke activity on her work laptop over 49 working days from October to December.
The analysis uncovered significant irregularities in her work habits. Over 44 days, she failed to work her designated hours, often beginning late (47 days) and finishing early (29 days). Shockingly, on four days, she logged zero working hours. Even when she did log on, her keystroke activity was remarkably low, with instances of zero strokes recorded over extensive periods.
The data painted a stark picture of her diminished work engagement. During the surveillance window, she averaged a mere 54 keystrokes per hour, which indicated a lack of substantial work contributions. When confronted with the evidence, Cheikho voiced disbelief but failed to substantiate her claim that the data was inaccurate.
Cheikho acknowledged her personal challenges, including health issues, and suggested that her mental well-being had impacted her work performance. She cited personal issues and an injury, claiming that she often used alternate devices for work due to “system issues.” However, these explanations fell short of validating her actions.
The FWC Deputy President, Thomas Roberts, concluded that the evidence demonstrated that Cheikho was indeed failing to fulfill her designated working hours. He noted her inability to provide a credible explanation for her behavior. While Cheikho’s use of a phone for certain tasks was acknowledged, her employer emphasized the necessity of laptop usage for her responsibilities.
Regrettably, Cheikho’s dismissal had to be executed due to her inability to meet her professional obligations. Despite her substantial service record, the FWC ruled that the dismissal was not excessive or unreasonable given the gravity of her disconnect from work during monitored hours.
This case serves as a poignant reminder of the evolving dynamics of remote work and the critical role technology plays in monitoring productivity. It underscores the need for employees to adhere to their work commitments even in remote settings, ensuring a harmonious balance between work expectations and personal challenges.