The Fair Work Commission has found that serious lapses in judgement may not be enough to justify summary dismissal. An IT manager, who was also an international competitive shooter, was found to have been wrongly dismissed without notice after a friend of his brought a high powered weapon into the workplace.
Implications for employers
Employers need to carefully consider the actions of an employee before summarily dismissing them, however the conduct of the employee during the investigatory process can be considered. Serious errors of judgement will not normally be enough to justify dismissal without notice or payment in lieu of notice.
An IT manager who had been with his employer for 12 years was summarily dismissed after a friend brought a Tikka T3 rifle to his workplace to get his advice about an accessory she had purchased. The IT Manager had previously mentored the woman in target shooting.
The IT manager and his friend were discussing how to fit the accessory in the company’s carpark when a witness saw them and reported the incident to the police.
When the IT manager’s superior approached him about the incident, he refused to discuss the matter claiming it would conflict with instructions from the police. The matter was then passed on to the company’s HR director, who suspended the IT Manager whilst an investigation took place. The IT manager was subsequently dismissed without notice.
The employer argued that the IT manager had breached its workplace policies and procedures by creating a serious risk to the health and safety of employees and clients through the presence of the rifle and ammunition in the workplace. The employer also argued a loss in confidence in the judgement of the IT manager, who was in a senior position, which justified his dismissal without notice.
The IT manager argued he could not be responsible for the actions of his friend and he was unaware she was carrying the rifle. The Commission rejected this argument stating that it was reasonable that the presence of the rifle should have “logically crossed his mind.”
The Commission found that whilst dismissal was not unreasonable in the circumstances, the employee should have been given notice or payment in lieu of notice.
The actions of the IT manager were a “serious error of judgement” however, they were not deliberate acts of serious misconduct.
The IT manager was awarded $8,616 in compensation, despite the Commission acknowledging “manifest defiance and antagonism” shown by the IT manager toward the employer.
The situation was further inflamed when the IT manager called on the support of an “overly interventionist support person”. The Commission noted that the actions of the IT manager and the support person “ensured that the employment relationship was irreparably damaged.” The IT manager sought reinstatement but the Commission found that reinstatement was “plainly inappropriate” in the circumstances.
David Waters v Goodyear Australia Pty Limited  FWC 1991