A hands-on handyman has lost his unfair dismissal claim after being sacked for repeatedly touching a younger female co-worker.
Deputy president Reg Hamilton found the employer had many valid reasons to dismiss the worker.
For example, inappropriate touching his colleague, the manner in which he spoke to a manager, in addition to his failure to follow a lawful direction.
Hands-on handyman loses his job
George Talevski worked as a handyman for transport company Chalmers Industries in Melbourne for 31 years.
Management sacked him following of sexual harassment complaints from a a young female receptionist.
She claimed Talevski continuously touched her shoulders and hair, and gave unwelcome hugs, however, she didn’t make a formal complaint.
The receptionist also alleged Talevski followed her to the toilets when she tried to get away from him.
She told the Fair Work Commission:
“Although I did not believe it was ever sexual in nature, Mr Talevski often invaded my personal space. This made me feel uncomfortable.
“I don’t like anyone touching me and although I don’t believe Mr Talevski had any ulterior motives, his actions were too much for me and I wanted him to stop.”
‘You’re treating me like a terrorist’
After the receptionist told co-workers about the touching, they informed management who subsequently met with Talevski.
Chalmers Chief Financial Officer Kane Harnden said during the meeting, Talevski became abusive and threatening, thumping a desk.
He accused Harnden of harassment.
After Harnden told the handyman to go home because he didn’t look well, Talevski responded by saying, “fuck off, you don’t tell me what to fucking do. You’re not my fucking doctor”.
He then said to Harnden, “you’re treating me like a terrorist”.
After initially refusing an order to leave Harnden’s office and go home, Talevski eventually left the workplace.
The company later directed him to not enter the main management building except for work purposes and not to “have chats” with other employees.
However, Talevski subsequently breached this order when he tried to confront the receptionist.
As a result, Chalmers dismissed him.
Valid reasons for dismissal
Deputy president Reg Hamilton rejected Talevski unfair dismissal claim.
He found the company had a number of valid reasons for the terminating his employment.
Firstly, Mr Hamilton described the continual touching of a young female employee as “inappropriate” and further, Chalmers had a duty of care to protect the receptionist from his behaviour.
Mr Hamilton said this duty of care alone justified dismissal.
Secondly, the way Talevski spoke to the Chief Financial Officer was also entirely inappropriate and constituted another valid reason for dismissal.
Finally, Talevski’s refusal to follow reasonable and lawful directions to leave Harnden’s office, and to leave the workplace, and to not enter the management building also formed a valid reason for dismissal.
Never touch work colleagues
Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at IR Claims, says the case is a valuable lesson for employees.
“Never, ever, ever touch a work colleague, no matter how innocent your intentions might be,” he said.
“What you might consider appropriate touching, might be considered inappropriate by someone else.”
Mr Heffernan advises workers accused of sexual harassment or any form of serious misconduct to seek urgent expert advice before attending any disciplinary meetings.
“Sexual harassment is never okay, and workers cannot refuse to comply with a reasonable and lawful direction from their employer,” he said.
Please call our team at Industrial Relations Claims today on