Cowboy hat sparked workplace brawl

Cases

Cowboy hat sparked workplace brawl

A rigger who was involved in a brawl at work was not unfairly dismissed, the Fair Work Commission has ruled.

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A rigger who was involved in a brawl at work was not unfairly dismissed, the Fair Work Commission has ruled. 

Background


Kristian Weir was employed full-time as a rigger with Bechtel Construction. He was working offshore on the Wheatstone Project in Western Australia when he was dismissed on 31 July 2017. 

On 29 July, Mr Weir was having a beer with his mates when a person walked past and took his cowboy hat before walking away. 

Mr Weir alleged the person said: ‘I don’t like you and I don’t fucking like cowboys’. 

Mr Weir reported that he felt threatened, ‘enclosed’ and ‘boxed-in’ by the comment. 

CCTV footage reveals Mr Weir then grabbed him from behind, gripping hold of him around the neck. 

The unknown person threw the hat before Mr Weir propelled himself chest and head forward onto him. 

In response, the unknown person threw the first of three punches at Mr Weir’s head while attempts were made to separate the pair.

Eventually they fell to the ground and stopped fighting. 

Mr Weir said he ‘was emotional at the time’ because his hat was taken and that he hadn't meant to exert that much force. 

The commission had to determine whether Mr Weir was in a fight, whether the business’ policies (Code, Working Rules or Golden Rules form) were reasonable and whether the employee was obliged to comply with them.  

Judgment

 
The Fair Work Commission found that a fight had occurred and Mr Weir had been a willing participant. 

The comment about the cowboy which was made by the unknown person was ‘juvenile’ and non-threatening and did not warrant such a violent retaliation. 

Deputy president Abbey Beaumont did not accept the ‘chest bump’ was made in self-defence as it was ‘intentional and threatening’ and there were other ways he could have reacted to the hat removal. 

She was satisfied that the content of the Code, Work Rules and Golden Rules Form ( which was to be signed after every mission) was a reasonable form of regulation in the village. Betchel Construction had implemented strict rules to discourage anti-social and/or violent behaviour which prohibited fighting and threatening behaviour during the course of employment. The commissioner held that this obligation was paramount for workplace health and safety. 

Mr Weir had breached the behavioural standards by taking part in this fight, which amounted to a valid reason for dismissal. 

She found Mr Weir was notified at a meeting on 31 July of the reasons why termination was being considered. He was provided with the opportunity to view the CCTV footage, respond to what had occurred and provide reasons as to why he should not be dismissed. 

The commissioner said Mr Weir's actions justified dismissal. 

‘Fighting within the workplace is, in my view, sufficiently grave as to be repugnant with the employment relationship,’ the commissioner said.

 Although it was an isolated incident, she found this did not obviate the seriousness of the misconduct. 

The Fair Work Commission upheld that the ‘dismissal of the applicant was not disproportionate to the applicant’s non-compliance with the behavioural requirements’. 

Kristian Weir v Bechtel Construction (Australia)) Pty Ltd
 

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