A worker who was dismissed for being very drunk at an after-work drinks function has been reinstated by the Fair Work Commission. (1) The woman was employed by a company who are contractors to the Sydney Opera House. At an after-hours drinks function with employees of the Opera House, the woman became so drunk as to vomit at the bar and needed to be helped to a taxi to take her home. The company dismissed her on the grounds of inappropriate conduct, which it believed was covered by its code of conduct on the expected standards of behaviour of employees. However, the Commission agreed with the woman that it is a case of unfair dismissal and ordered that she be reinstated.
While the Commission accepted that the employer was concerned that the misconduct might have some impact upon the renewal of its contract with the Opera House, it concluded that some form of disciplinary action could have been implemented, but in this specific case summary dismissal was unwarranted. Furthermore, the Commission found the employer’s investigation and processing of the complaint to be flawed. The Commissioner concluded that the termination was not based on sound, defensible and well-founded reason. An appeal against the decision was rejected in April 2019.
This case raises questions about what are "appropriate behaviour standards" at work-related functions.
While many would agree that getting so drunk that you vomit is not appropriate behaviour, does your company provide clear guidance about what is appropriate at work-related events? For example, do you have a workplace policy in place that makes it clear to employees how they are expected to behave at work-related functions? And if so, how has it been communicated to employees? A well written and communicated policy will guide employees and help employers to defend any disciplinary actions.
DASA has a team of highly experienced professionals in the area of drug and alcohol policy development who can assist you in developing and optimising your workplace drug and alcohol policy. To know more, contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Fair Work Commission: Trudi Puszka v Ryan Wilks Pty Ltd T/A Ryan Wilks Proprietary Limited (U2018/8666) 7 March 2019