Sparky sacked after positive alcohol test results

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Sparky sacked after positive alcohol test results

An electrician who reported for work with twice the allowable alcohol level was fairly dismissed. He worked in a high risk environment and was aware of the employer’s policy.

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An electrician who reported for work with twice the allowable alcohol level was fairly dismissed. He worked in a high risk environment and was aware of the employer’s policy as a safety requirement.

Three tests confirmed result


An electrician qualified to operate truck-mounted cranes, elevated work platforms, trucks and ship loaders used to drink wine in the evenings. He was aware of his employer’s alcohol and drugs policy but believed no alcohol would remain in his blood by the next morning.

However, on 23 August 2016 he was subjected to a random breath test at 7.07 am at work, which gave the reading 0.043. A second breath analysis at 7.25 am gave the reading 0.040. He was stood down with pay.

The electrician was shocked at the results and arranged to have a private blood test at a laboratory. The result from the laboratory test taken at 9.49 am was 0.03. 

The employer’s policy for workers in the electrician’s category was to allow a reading of 0.02. In the past, all employees with a higher reading than that had been dismissed. 

After a series of meetings, the employer dismissed the electrician from 29 August 2016 for breach of the alcohol policy. He applied to the Fair Work Commission according to s394 of the Fair Work Act 2009 claiming his dismissal had been harsh. He believed medication he was on had affected his metabolism and accounted for the high alcohol reading. He also believed the employer had not taken into account his length of service and reduced prospects of employment when deciding to dismiss him.

The evidence showed the electrician’s supervisor had noticed that he smelled of alcohol and had seen red wine staining around his mouth when he came to work on 23 August 2016. The evidence also showed there was no doubt that the testing had been carried out correctly. 

Alcohol reading indicated serious safety breach


Before deciding to terminate the electrician’s employment, the employer had taken into account that he had been due to perform electrical maintenance, potentially involving work with high-voltage electrics. Reporting for work with double the acceptable alcohol level in the circumstances had been a serious safety breach. 

The employer had also sought medical advice and been informed that the medication the electrician had been taking would not have affected the test results. Consideration had also been given to his length of service since 1997 without disciplinary measures and the fact he was 62 years old.

How full were glasses?


Commissioner Platt accepted that the electrician had given evidence honestly and that he genuinely believed he had not been unfit for work. He had drunk two or three, or perhaps three or four, glasses of red wine between 6 pm and 10 pm the night before. He estimated the amount in a glass to have been between 125 ml and 170 ml.

There was nevertheless some doubt about the quantity he had drunk because pint-sized glasses were mentioned though not how full they had been. 

No offer to lower alcohol intake


Since the employer had an alcohol policy appropriate for its high-risk work environment, it was clear that it had a valid reason for terminating the electrician’s employment. Although he had offered to undergo more frequent testing in the future, he had not offered to take action at the root of the problem and lower his alcohol intake. 

Commissioner Platt concluded the dismissal had not been harsh, unjust or unreasonable. The electrician’s application was dismissed.

B v Viterra Operations Pty Ltd [2017] FWC 665 (1 February 2017)
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