A major insurance company used keystroke technology on an employee’s work laptop to test whether she was working her designated hours — and it ended terribly for her.
The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has rejected an unfair dismissal application brought by former Insurance Australia Group (IAG) consultant Suzie Cheikho, finding she was fired for a “valid reason of misconduct.”
According to the commission’s published finding, Cheikho was responsible for creating insurance documents, meeting regulatory timelines, and monitoring “work from home compliance,” among other significant roles.
Ironically, her own work-from-home performance marked the end of her 18-year career with the company.
According to the FWC findings, Cheikho was fired on February 20 for missing deadlines and meetings, being absent and uncontactable, and failing to complete a task which caused the industry regulator to fine IAG.
A month later, Cheikho claimed to the FWC her employer had a “premeditated plan to remove her from the business and that she was targeted due to her mental health issues.”
According to the online findings, Cheikho received a formal warning in November 2022 about her output and was put on a performance improvement plan.
She was subject to a detailed review of cyber activity, which analyzed the number of times she physically pressed her keyboard on 49 working days from October to December.
The review found she did not work her rostered hours for 44 days, started late on 47 days, finished early on 29 days, and performed zero hours of work on 4 days.
On the days she did log on, she had “very low keystroke activity” and recorded zero strokes over 117 hours in October, 143 hours in November, and 60 hours in December.
She averaged 54 strokes per hour over the duration of her surveillance, which showed “she was not presenting for work and performing work as required.”
In a formal meeting about the review, Cheikho said she did “not believe for a minute” the data was true but showed no evidence that she’d been online and working when the report showed she hadn’t.
“Sometimes the workload is a bit slow, but I have never not worked,” she told her managers, according to the FWC findings.
“I mean, I may go to the shops from time to time, but that is not for the entire day. I need to take some time to consider this and I will put forward a response.”
In a written response, Cheikho said she’d looked at the data to seek an explanation for the missing hours but “really can’t recall why or how it’s that low.”
“I have tried to go through emails and messages to see if I can explain it,” she wrote.
“I have been going through a lot of personal issues which has caused a decline to my mental health and unfortunately I believe it has affected my performance and my work.”
Cheikho said she always started on time but had “a few things going on” due to an injury.
She claimed she would send a Teams message to advise managers when she had medical appointments and would “make up the time afterward.”
She said she was “confused and shocked” at the data, doubted its accuracy, and said she used other devices than her laptop to log in when she had “system issues.”
According to the FWC ruling, Cheikho attended one Microsoft Teams meeting with her manager regarding her performance with the word “F—k” written across her hand.
FWC Deputy President Thomas Roberts ruled the evidence showed Cheikho “was not working as she was required to do during her designated working hours” while monitored.
He found Cheikho could not provide a credible explanation for the data to her employers or throughout the FWC proceedings.
Roberts wrote that while Cheikho said she used her phone for certain tasks, her employer had shown the need for her to use her laptop to complete her duties.
“The applicant was dismissed for a valid reason of misconduct,” Roberts wrote.
“I have little doubt that the factors underlying the applicant’s disconnection from work were serious and real.”
The situation was “regrettable” given Cheikho’s “long period of satisfactory service,” Roberts wrote.
“Nonetheless … I am satisfied that the dismissal of the applicant was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable.”
“The applicant’s application is therefore dismissed.”