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Pot-smoking ship master's dismissal was harsh

22 April 2014

Despite being in breach of his company's clear zero-tolerance drug policy, a ferry driver who admitted smoking marijuana has won an unfair dismissal case in Sydney.

The circumstances surrounding the termination of the worker’s employment were called into the spotlight as the case reached the Fair Work Commission earlier this year.

On July 25 last year, the ferry driver was called in to replace another worker who was sick. During his shift, the ferry veered to the side and hit a metal pile. However, no customers reported being affected by the small collision.

Despite the lack of passenger complaints, the employee decided to report the incident to his controlling officers. He was then required to undertake a drug test, following which he was suspended and eventually let go.

After 17 years on the job, the ferry driver claimed his dismissal was unfair due to the lack of evidence of impairment caused by the drugs in his system. Additionally, he felt he should not be blamed for partaking in what he claimed was pain relief the night before, particularly as he did not expect to be working the following day.

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The ferry company argued that it had acted appropriately in the circumstances due to the employee's position of responsibility. If impairment was caused while in control of a ferry, the safety of the public and other employees would be at risk.

While the Fair Work Commission found the company's reasoning behind the dismissal was fair and valid, the termination was deemed too harsh in this particular circumstance. This decision was largely attributed to there being no clear link between the drug test and the accident, in addition to the employee's open and cooperative manner.

This case proves it is important to undergo fair and unbiased workplace investigations before making any decision on disciplinary action. Furthermore, action taken should be based on the evidence available and take all the circumstances into consideration.

iHR Australia offers workplace investigations, inquiries and assessments to help your organisation appropriately manage and deal with behavioural matters. Workplace investigations from iHR Australia offer insight and recommendations regarding appropriate future actions.

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