'Blow-up' did not justify getting the sack: AIRC

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'Blow-up' did not justify getting the sack: AIRC

An incident where a process worker threw water at a colleague and was verbally abusive did not validate her subsequent dismissal, the AIRC has ruled.

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An incident where a process worker threw water at a colleague and was verbally abusive did not validate her subsequent dismissal, the AIRC has ruled.

In February, while employed with Murray Goulburn Co-Operative Company Ltd, the process worker was involved in an ‘incident’ with the plant’s leading hand.

The leading hand alleged the worker threw a cup of water at her, and was also verbally abusive and aggressive. She also contended the worker took smoko breaks when she was specifically directed not to.

After an investigation, the worker was summarily dismissed for breaching the company’s code of conduct by behaving aggressively towards a colleague.

The worker filed an unfair dismissal claim, arguing that she had thrown the cup of water on the ground, not at the leading hand, and that the incident was ‘harsh’ in that it was disproportionate to the gravity of the misconduct, particularly in regards to her previous work record and her service.

Incident not assault

Due to inconsistencies in the leading hand’s testimony, Commissioner Anna-Lee Cribb accepted the worker’s evidence that she threw the cup of water onto the ground and that some splashed onto her colleague's knees, not her face, and that this action could not be classified as ‘assault’.

‘It is not possible, in my view, to classify these actions as assault,’ Cribb said. ‘However, the applicant’s (worker) actions were serious and inappropriate in the workplace and although spontaneous, they may well be described as aggressive/bordering on intimidatory behaviour towards Ms Cowper (leading hand).'

‘What occurred on that shift was a blow-up in the relationship between the applicant and her leading hand. Whilst the applicant’s behaviour is not at all condoned, all of the individual events happened because of the breakdown in that relationship and so need to be viewed, also, in that context.’

Commissioner Cribb found the worker’s dismissal was harsh and unfair. However, she declined to order reinstatement due to an ‘irrevocable breakdown’ in the employment relationship, instead granting $25,148 in compensation.

Carolyn Boyd and Murray Goulburn Co-Operative Company Limited [2007] AIRC 831 (26 October 2007)

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