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I will “cut your tongue out”: dismissal of mineworker who raised broken glass to co-worker's throat upheld

The Fair Work Commission has rejected a "things are different on a mining site" defence from a worker who was dismissed for holding a piece of broken glass to the throat of a colleague.


The sacked employee told the FWC that he was drinking with co-workers, when he left the table where they were sitting and a glass bottle smashed at his feet.


He picked up part of the smashed bottle and demanded of the group he had been sitting with: "Who the f.ck threw that?"


When one co-worker admitted he'd done so, the worker held the bottle to his neck and said: "Do you know what I do to people who throw bottles at me in Perth? If you did that in Perth, I'd cut your tongue out."


He let the worker go when he realised his neck was bleeding; the co-worker assured him he was okay then sat down and finished his beer.  He told the Commission that he didn't consider his language or conduct to be threatening, and that he was only making it clear that he would not tolerate acts of aggression directed at him.  He said that dismissing him was unfair because the co-worker was merely disciplined for throwing the bottle and sparking the incident.


In justifying his actions, the mineworker told the FWC that conduct standards are different in "normal" and mining workplaces.


"What would be considered violence in a mainstream society is just 'boys being boys' on a mine site," he said.


But the FWC Deputy President refused to accept the "things are different on a mine site" defence.


"This conduct is unacceptable anywhere … I do not accept that the other worker caused [the worker] to behave in the way he did.


"[The worker] had other options but he did not use them … [The worker] could have made his feelings about the incident clear without making threatening statements whilst holding a piece of glass to the other worker's neck.”


She said that the worker's own evidence weighed against the merits of his case and she dismissed his bid to accept his late unfair dismissal claim due to exceptional circumstances.


In this case, management acted quickly and effectively, and were supported by the FWC.  Bullying and other violent incidents create occupational health and safety hazards for not only the victim but also potentially other staff.  If not dealt with swiftly, they can also create a bullying culture, encouraging further bullying incidents as well as legal recourse against the company and managers on the part of those who are bullied.  Management must seek to cultivate a culture where employees feel safe and respected.


iHR’s Equal Employment Opportunity and Workplace Bullying training for managers focuses on the manager’s responsibility as the custodian of your organisation's workplace culture, and the key elements of the manager's role in preventing and effectively managing bullying, harassment and discrimination issues in the workplace.

 

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