A full Federal Court has confirmed that an employer had the right to terminate the employment of a worker who violated its zero-tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol, despite the lack of evidence that the breach led to a ferry accident nearly two years ago.
Worker smoked cannabis the night before incident
The employee, a Harbour City Ferries Pty Ltd ferry master, crashed the Marjorie Jackson ferry into a wharf on the Parramatta River in Sydney in July 2013. He was subsequently suspended then sacked after testing positive for drugs. As it turned out, he smoked cannabis the night before the incident to relieve shoulder pain.
FWC Deputy President Jeff Lawrence, however, ordered his reinstatement in April 2014, saying the dismissal was unfair, mainly because there was little evidence of impairment at the time of the crash. Harbour City Ferries filed an appeal to a Full Bench of the FWC, which eventually reversed Deputy President Lawrence’s ruling, saying he was in error when he determined that the sacking was harsh, unjust, or unreasonable.
The worker appealed the decision of the Full Bench of the FWC to the Full Federal Court, which promptly ruled that in reversing Deputy President Lawrence’s decision, no jurisdictional errors were committed by the FWC full bench.
The ruling of the Full Federal Court essentially says that tribunals and courts will accept that prima facie, violation of a company’s zero-tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol is already grounds for valid dismissal. Since this is the case, we recommend that employers make sure that their alcohol and drugs policy is clearly communicated to workers to impress upon them that acting on them may not result in a valid unfair dismissal claim.
To read the decision in full, click here.