A McCain Foods employee has won his job back after originally being sacked for fighting in the workplace.
Peter Bridges launched an unfair dismissal claim before the Fair Work Commission after he was fired in September for defending himself against an aggressive co-worker who started yelling at him in the lunchroom.
While Bridges did not strike his co-worker, the commission heard the electrician did have hold of the other man’s clothing.
Bridges argued he acted in self-defence and his actions did not justify a dismissal. The other employee also lost his job.
The commission ruled that while McCain had a valid reason for terminating Bridges’ employment, the manner in which it was done was harsh.
“The punishment of dismissal was clearly disproportionate to the misconduct of the applicant,” Commissioner John Ryan said in his ruling.
Because of this, McCain Foods has been ordered to reinstate Bridges.
However, the electrician was not awarded remuneration for the loss of about five weeks’ pay because Commissioner Ryan felt it was a sufficient penalty for being involved in the workplace scuffle.
Employment lawyer Peter Vitale told SmartCompany the manner in which the commission dealt with this particular case was “slightly unusual”.
“The commission held a hearing before the employee was dismissed in order to assist in resolving a dispute about the investigation by his employer into his conduct,” Vitale says.
“However, in the unfair dismissal case, the commission found that the employer had a valid reason for termination, based on the commission’s own earlier findings, but the dismissal was harsh.”
Vitale says reinstatements are a relatively rare remedy enforced by the Fair Work Commission.
“Even though the Fair Work Act designates reinstatement as the primary remedy in unfair dismissal cases, only a few percent of unfair dismissal cases result in reinstatement being ordered,” he says.
“In this case, the commission considered the employee’s lengthy, unblemished service, his age and the difficulties he might face finding other employment and the fact that he did not initiate the incident with the other employee as significant consideration supporting the order to reinstate.
“It is also worth noting that the commission did not award the employee five weeks’ wages lost between the termination and the hearing, on the basis that the loss of wages was a suitable ‘penalty’ for his conduct.”
SmartCompany contacted McCain Foods but did not receive a response prior to publication.
SmartCompany was unable to contact Peter Bridges for comment.