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NSW lawyer fired for internet search history

An intellectual property firm was ordered to compensate a former employee it dismissed over his internet browsing history.

user iconNaomi Neilson 29 January 2024 Big Law
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Sydney-based patent attorney and trademark firm, Chrysiliou IP, dismissed trademark lawyer, William Ellis, for what it estimated was over seven hours of personal internet browsing across four days.

The firm alleged Mr Ellis searched for PlayStation games, eBay listings, movies, bands and music festivals when he should have been giving “full consideration” to a client’s matter.

While the Fair Work Commission found Mr Ellis could have been dismissed for poor performance or unsatisfactory conduct, the firm’s decision to do so over his browsing history was “swift” and “harsh”.


“I do not consider browsing history to be enough in itself, particularly in the modern, digitally connected era where employees may sporadically access the internet for both work and personal purposes across their working day,” Commissioner Alana Matheson found.

The dispute at the centre of the unfair dismissal began with an email from said client to director and patent lawyer, Allen Chan, about an alleged failure by Mr Ellis to provide an update on the matter.

The client suggested either being moved to another colleague or he would transfer his matter to a different law firm.

After Mr Chan asked for an “urgent” update, Mr Ellis not only excused himself from the client’s matter, but alleged he “smelled a bad debtor rat on this” and claimed he had was provided with “vague” information from the client so could not do much work.

Commissioner Matheson disputed this claim by pointing out an email had been sent to Mr Ellis in which the client specifically told the lawyer to “let me know if you need more detailed information”.

When human resources consultant Annette Dixon requested a meeting to discuss performance issues, Mr Ellis said he would be working from home and would attend on Microsoft Teams. He did so despite the firm telling him he must attend in person.

Mr Ellis also had a support person sit in on the meeting without notifying the firm. While there was no issue with Mr Ellis having a support person, he was asked to inform the firm of who it was.

Commissioner Matheson said failing to inform the firm and appearing remotely demonstrated Mr Ellis had a “poor attitude”.

The Fair Work Commission also accepted that rather than acknowledging his shortcomings, Mr Ellis tried to “excuse himself”.