Getting drunk at an after-work function is not grounds for dismissal, according to a recent Fair Work decision.
Commissioner Ian Cambridge said most workers would have lost their job if getting drunk once at an after-work function is a sackable offence.
He made the comments when handing down his decision during a recent unfair dismissal case before the Commission.
Worker vomited on floor
The case involved a female project administrator employed by an electrical contractor based at the Sydney Opera House.
The company sacked her for excessive drinking and vomiting on the floor of a bar during a post-work function.
The employer also accused her of disparaging colleagues and the company, in addition to sexually harassing an Opera House worker.
It subsequently summarily dismissed her for “gross serious misconduct”.
Mr Cambridge found the worker became “hopelessly drunk”.
However, he found the allegations of disparaging comments unsubstantiated, and the claim of sexual harassment completely false.
One instance of drunkenness not a valid reason for dismissal
Mr Cambridge noted the conduct of employees outside of work hours has increasingly become the subject of potential scrutiny by employers.
“In this instance the applicant accepted that her conduct at the farewell drinks function had the potential to reflect upon the business of the employer, and she was genuinely remorseful and embarrassed by her misconduct during her period of drunkenness.”
Regarding after-hours drinking, Mr Cambridge said a single act of drunkenness at an after-work function does not represent serious misconduct.
So long as it does doesn’t involve abusive or aggressive behaviour, and also doesn’t damage the reputation of the employer.
“Frankly, if one act of inoffensive drunkenness at an after-work function provided valid reason for dismissal, I suspect that the majority of Australian workers may have potentially lost their jobs.”
He subsequently ordered the company to reinstate the worker and to also reimburse her for lost wages.
Warning for workers
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Industrial Relations Claims, warned workers to be on their best behaviour at work functions.
“Workers would be foolish to think this decision is a licence to party hard at the next office booze-up,” he said.
“The same rules that apply in the office also apply at any work-related function, even if it is held after hours.
“That means you can be sacked for inappropriate behaviour – for example, embarrassing your employer, or sexually harassing someone, or if you get into an argument or a fight.”
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