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Loose-cannon sommelier dismissed for mocking co-worker's virginity

23 October 2012

Where is the line between light-hearted banter and inappropriate conduct? A recent case before Fair Work Australia provided some interesting analysis.

A senior employee of a wine bar in Sydney's inner west was dismissed for serious misconduct that breached the company's policies and code of conduct. The behaviour in question concerned several incidents in which the sommelier made a fellow employee feel uncomfortable or intimidated. The sommelier sought a remedy for unfair dismissal from Fair Work Australia.

The five incidents cited in the case occurred in January and February this year. In two of the alleged incidents, the sommelier made comments about the victim's virginity in the presence of the victim and other staff. In another incident, the sommelier picked on the victim throughout a shift, allocating tasks to the victim that could easily have been shared amongst the team working that evening. The sommelier also used an aggressive tone when delegating to the victim and continued to question him about why the work had not been completed. A further incident involved the sommelier questioning the victim about the complaints he had made to the bar's HR team.

In total, four of the five allegations were substantiated. On this basis, the bar's HR manager dismissed the sommelier for serious misconduct, in breach of the club's code of conduct.

Fair Work Australia considered the allegations and the investigation that had been undertaken. The ruling upheld the decision, acknowledging that though the sommelier did not intend to offend, that was indeed the effect. The ruling also noted a mismatch between the sommelier's values and contemporary norms about what is acceptable in the workplace. Although he attended training he did not seem to comprehend this training. He displayed no contrition, no remorse, nor any indication that the 'penny had dropped'.

The sommelier was not reinstated.

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