A scientist was fired by the Bureau of Meteorology after he was caught secretly working from overseas for multiple weeks.
Research scientist Diandong Ren lodged an unfair dismissal application to the Fair Work Commission in July 2023, claiming his sacking by the bureau was harsh, unjust or unreasonable.
The BOM denied the allegations, stating Mr Ren lied to his bosses about his location and potentially breached security risks by accessing the IT systems from overseas without permission from the Commonwealth.
The Fair Work Commission backed the bureau’s case, with commissioner Scott Connolly finding the termination of Mr Ren’s employment “was not hard, unjust or unreasonable” and he was not unfairly dismissed.
Mr Ren travelled from Melbourne to the United States for a holiday for four weeks between August and September 2022.
Nine days after he returned back to work, Mr Ren’s boss realised he wasn’t coming into the office, wasn’t online and wasn’t attending any meetings.
Mr Ren claimed he was working from home, but the bureau tracked his IP address and found it was located in Austin, Texas.
He told his supervisor he had left his computer in the US but failed to provide evidence of his travel back to Australia.
In October, Mr Ren was asked to again provide evidence of his travel dates to the US and requested his records from the Department of Home Affairs.
A formal investigation was then launched and Mr Ren was issued with a draft report from the investigation in December, but the research scientist claimed he “truly did not recall” his travel details.
Records obtained by Home Affairs revealed Mr Ren did not arrive until October 6, more than two months weeks after he was due to return home.
In December, the bureau told Mr Ren he had breached cybersecurity policies but he claimed his time in the US were “all legal logons”.
“As it started from a scheduled PCL travel, and I did not bring any BOM device with me. How can I misused the BOM property?” Mr Ren responded.
“Also I travelled according to a schedule discussed with my manager, I am still unaware what is wrong. You may cast this spell on my head but I wish to know why?”
He claimed his flight back to Australia was interrupted by a positive Covid-19 test in Doha, which is why he didn’t return to the office for two weeks as he was working from home.
Documents from Home Affairs further revealed Mr Ren had returned to the US for three months while under investigation from January to March 2022.
He told his boss he was working from home during this period.
The bureau had refused his request to take personal leave to visit the US on the second occasion, and claims Mr Ren further breached its cybersecurity policies.
Mr Ren denied claims he returned overseas and told the Fair Work Commission his passport had been stolen after he returned home.
He told the FWC there “exists a slight possibility of identity theft” and his passport was used by someone else.
The scientist was fired by the bureau in May 2023 following findings from the nine-month long investigation.
He was told his termination was the result of a “deliberate refusal” to accept the bureau’s rules with regard to working remotely and accessing its IT systems, which had potential implications for security.
Mr Ren was told his conduct was “deliberately evasive and untruthful”, and “inconsistent” with expectations placed on him by the Code of Conduct.
Management told Mr Ren they no longer had trust and confidence he could do his job.
In his unfair dismissal claim, the scientist claimed he had permission to work overseas and IT had installed programs on his computer to allow him to do so.
He also claimed working overseas was common practice among staff, and the bureau had accepted it allowed during the pandemic.
But the bureau argued Mr Ren’s actions were without his supervisor’s knowledge.
Commissioner Scott Connolly ruled it was not for Mr Ren to decide “when and from where he can access the employer’s IT networks” without approval.
While he found Mr Ren “genuinely formed” the opinion he had the bureau’s permission to work from wherever was convenient for him, he accepted the scientist did not bother with formal approval to do so.
“I have also considered the seriousness of potential breaches to Commonwealth IT networks and systems and I am convinced that this ground alone would have warranted the Respondent (BOM) to take decisive action,” Mr Connolly ruled.
“While I empathise with Mr Ren and what he perceives to have occurred to him, after considering all the materials and submissions presented, on the balance of probabilities, I find that Mr Ren has not been unfairly dismissed.”
The case was dismissed.