Drug admissions relevant to unfair dismissal claim

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Drug admissions relevant to unfair dismissal claim

A Fair Work Commission full bench has ruled that a mine worker's admissions to police about after-work drug use were relevant evidence in an unfair dismissal claim.

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A Fair Work Commission full bench has ruled that a mine worker's admissions to police about after-work drug use were relevant evidence in an unfair dismissal claim.

The employee’s application failed and his dismissal stood.

[Full text of this case: W v AGL Loy Yang Pty Ltd [2016] FWCFB 4818 (2 August 2016)]

An employee had an accident (causing considerable damage) while driving home after work. He admitted to police that he had used synthetic cannabis that day.

He was dismissed by his employer after an investigation into the incident. The employee had received two warnings and a final warning over using cannabis at work. He objected to his admission to police being admitted as evidence in his unfair dismissal case.

Relevant evidence


The full bench discussed the criminal law principle that excluded admissions.

The full bench noted some of the logic behind the criminal law principle – “the mental condition of an accused who makes an admission may be so serious that no reliance could be placed on the admissions made. The test is whether the person’s mind was so disordered and irresponsible that it would be dangerous to pay any attention to their alleged admission.” R v Simon Alexander Jude Pfitzner  (1996) 85 A Crim R 120.

The full bench noted: "W did not object to the admission into evidence of his alleged admission to [the police], but he did submit that the vice president ought to have disregarded the evidence or given it no weight on the basis of the Pfitzner principle, namely... he was incapable of exercising a sensible judgment about whether or not he should make a statement to the police.

"... In light of our finding that the vice president was not required to apply the Pfitzner principle, we reject those arguments."

Initial decision stands


The full bench concluded the evidence was against the worker:

"In our view, it is not open to conclude that the vice president overlooked or simply discarded the evidence concerning whether there was any opportunity for Mr W to consume cannabis prior to driving. The better view is that the vice president concluded that he did not need to discuss the particular contention that there was no opportunity for Mr W to consume cannabis prior to driving.

"In any event, we are not satisfied that the evidence relied upon by Mr W [about time to consume etc] warrants a finding that there was no opportunity for Mr W to consume cannabis prior to driving..."

The bottom line: The rules of evidence can be complex and the Fair Work Commission jurisdiction is not as strict as the common law courts in this respect. However, the commission is obliged to confront and deal with certain rules of evidence to achieve a just result.

W v AGL Loy Yang Pty Ltd [2016] FWCFB 4818 (2 August 2016)

See also: The rules of evidence rule in employment cases
 

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