A construction worker has lost his unfair dismissal claim after he was sacked for fighting over a cowboy hat.
The Fair Work Commission found the employer followed proper processes and had been right to sack the worker for serious misconduct.
Fight over cowboy hat leads to dismissal
Kristian Weir worked for Bechtel Construction as a rigger on the Wheatstone Project in Western Australia since August 2016.
Twelve months into the job, while having a beer with a colleague in the mess hall, another worker walked past Weir and took the cowboy hat he was wearing.
CCTV footage of the incident showed Weir chasing the man to get his hat back, and then chest-bumping him.
The other worker then punched Weir in the face.
The employer subsequently dismissed the worker responsible for stealing the hat.
And then, following a meeting, management also fired Weir, finding his response to the situation breached the company’s code of conduct.
What the worker said
Weir filed an unfair dismissal claim, telling the Commission he responded to an unprovoked attack.
He argued he reacted to the hat thief in the way he did because he felt threatened.
Furthermore, Weir also claimed Bechtel Construction denied him procedural fairness because management handed him a termination letter directly after the meeting where it asked him for an explanation.
He argued the company had already made up its mind about dismissing him.
What the company said
In response, Bechtel Construction told the Commission that Weir had signed a code of conduct relating to his employment and accommodation at the remote project site.
The code prohibits workers engaging in “offensive, intimidating, anti-social or violent behaviour, regardless of how or why it is initiated”.
What the Commission said
Fair Work Deputy President Abbey Beaumont described the act of stealing a hat from another worker as “stupid” and “reprehensible”.
However, she also found Weir’s response to the incident quickly escalated the situation into something aggressive.
“He was violent toward the unknown person … I am unconvinced the applicant was defending himself by his action.”
Ms Beaumont also found Bechtel Construction did follow correct procedures by meeting with Weir and quickly determining that his actions amounted to misconduct.
What the experts say
Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at IR Claims, says there is never an excuse for physical violence in the workplace.
“You can count on losing your job if you ever engage in physical violence with a co-worker, no matter who might have started the altercation,” he said.
“The Fair Work Act states that physical violence is serious misconduct, and therefore, an employer normally has the right to immediately dismiss an employee.”
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