Freelancer accused of ‘stack ranking’ employees


Freelancer has engaged in “stack ranking” of its employees and fired employees who were underperforming according to the internal performance review system, a court has heard.

ASX-listed technology company Freelancer and its chief executive Matt Barrie are defending a Federal Circuit Court claim by its former HR and operations manager he was unfairly sacked by the company because he made complaints about the company’s personal trainer who was subsequently hired to do preform general office tasks.

During re-examination, the former Freelancer employee Matthew O’Kane said part of his job was talent acquisition and talent retention.

He said the technology company had the practice of hiring “lots of people”, before engaging in “stack ranking” of its employees.

Subsequently the company would “do something about the As and A+s and do something about the Cs”, he said.

“You mean terminate the Cs?” barrister for Mr O’Kane, Gerard Boyce, asked.

“Yes,” Mr O’Kane said.

Stack ranking, also known as “rank and yank”, refers to a controversial management technique where companies rank all employees on a bell curve and sack the lowest performing employees. Amazon dropped the controversial performance review system last year to focus on its “employee’s strengths, not the absence of weaknesses”.

According to the latest report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency Freelancer has over 120 employees. 

Mr O’Kane and Freelancer are also in dispute as to whether Mr O’Kane resigned from his employment or he was sacked by the company.

Earlier in cross-examination Mr O’Kane said he left Freelancer’s office for the day after he had a “heated exchange” with Mr Barrie where he blamed Mr O’Kane for the issues caused by the sacked employee.

Mr O’Kane denied by leaving the office that day, he intended to resign from the company.

Michael Seck, barrister for Freelancer and Mr Barrie, suggested Mr O’Kane changed his position the next day because he has a medical condition and a family to support.

“That’s not what happened,” Mr O’Kane said.

Mr O’Kane said at that point, he wanted to go back to working for Freelancer.

“I was having fun,” he said.

Freelancer also says Mr O’Kane was dismissed for a range of performance and conduct issues, and the company has had issues with him in the past such as being responsible for “stuffing up” PowerPoint slides at startup conference StartCon in 2015 and falsely accusing a junior employee of faking her grandmother’s death so she could take leave.

On Tuesday, the court heard Mr Barrie gave Mr O’Kane a warning for inviting ABC’s Four Corners camera crew onto the premises without approval because he was concerned the resulting episode could “disrupt his political ambitions”. 

Solve Legal’s Kyle Kutasi is representing Mr O’Kane and Piper Alderman is representing Freelancer and Mr Barrie.

The hearing before Judge Nicholas Manousaridis continues. Mr Barrie is due to give evidence at a later date.



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