Worker brought explosives to work 'to socialise'

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Worker brought explosives to work 'to socialise'

A long-standing public servant who brought explosive devices and pistols to work was validly dismissed, the Fair Work Commission has ruled.

A long-standing public servant who brought explosive devices and pistols to work was validly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled.

Although it was disputed whether the items were “live”, there was still a potential risk to health and safety and the employer’s reputation.

The employee had breached the employer’s code of conduct.

Facts of case


Chris Rodger had been employed by an ACT government organisation for more than 17 years. On several occasions he brought items to work and described their capabilities to other employees, although he did not use them. He claimed that each one was either not working at the time or not dangerous.

The employer claimed the items were:
  • Explosive booster charges – he rolled one of them across the workshop floor and claimed it could “blow a car in half” but also claimed it was inert at the time and was only a training device
  • A pair of duelling pistols
  • A shotgun and .22 calibre rifle
Mr Rodger denied bringing the pistols and guns to work.

The employer reported the incidents to the Australian Federal Police, who investigated and reported back that none of the items found in his possession were held with the intention to hurt anyone.

The employer dismissed him, claiming that his conduct breached the ACT Public Service employment legislation and code of conduct, placed the health and safety of himself and other employees at risk, and had the potential to damage the employer’s reputation. This amounted to serious misconduct.

Mr Rodger argued that:
  • Dismissal was harsh in view of his unblemished record of 17 years’ service and the likelihood that it would be very difficult for him to find similar other employment in Canberra.
  • There were gaps in the employer’s evidence and much of it was unsubstantiated.
  • He disputed some of the claims about items he brought to work, and asserted that none of them were dangerous. He claimed he did not bring a shotgun or rifle to work, and that the other items were either disabled (the explosives) or fake (the pistols).
  • Other employees had brought similar items to work (he claimed it was commonplace), and in one case an explosion had occurred, but they were not dismissed.
  • His reason for bringing the items to work was basically to socialise with other employees.
The employer argued that:
  • Bringing the items to work was misconduct providing a valid reason for dismissal. Even if the items were not operational, they created a risk to the physical and psychological safety and health of employees and a risk of damage to the employer’s reputation. The other employees may not have known that the items did not work or were fake.
  • The absence of an intention to cause harm did not mean risks were not created.
  • It had increased its scrutiny of health and safety issues since the incidents involving other employees had occurred, and in any case had imposed harsh sanctions on those employees, even if they were not dismissed.
  • It had reasonable grounds to believe that the conduct occurred, but admitted that the evidence of the rifle being at the workplace was not strong.

Decision


The Fair Work Commission found that Mr Rodger had brought explosives and pistols to the workplace, but it was unproven that he also brought a rifle. It was unclear whether the items he brought were “live” or genuine, but in either case there was a risk to the health and safety of other employees, who may not have known whether they were.

Mr Rodger’s conduct also had the potential to bring the employer and the ACT Public Service into disrepute.

While his personal circumstances were a relevant factor to the decision, he had failed to substantiate that his employment prospects were poor, and in any case had started his own business since being dismissed. The degree of misconduct overrode those factors and his dismissal was not unfair.

The bottom line: In this case there may or may not have been a genuine threat to the health and safety of other employees, but it was sufficient for there to be a potential threat for dismissal to be justified. It was foreseeable that some employees would react badly to seeing weapons at the workplace.

Read the judgment


Rodger v ACT Government – Transport Canberra and City Services t/a ACTION, [2018] FWC 6970, 15 November 2018
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