A 63-year-old forklift driver has been reinstated after his employer fired him for failing to clean up spilt milk correctly.
The Fair Work Commission has ruled Christopher Tran, a forklift driver for Parmalat Food Products, was unfairly dismissed and should return to work.
Parmalat Food Products is the company behind popular brands including Pauls milk, Vaalia yoghurt, Ice Break coffee and Lemnos haloumi.
Tran had been a forklift driver at Parmalat’s factory in Sydney’s western suburbs since 2002.
In March this year, a palette collapsed in the factory causing milk to spill into a trailer.
A health and safety investigation took place the following week.
The investigation found Tran did not comply with the proper procedures for handling the incident, including entering the truck without it being “locked down”.
As a result, Tran’s employment was terminated a few days later.
Tran subsequently took the matter to the Fair Work Commission, arguing his dismissal was harsh because the punishment was disproportionate to the alleged offence.
Parmalat, meanwhile, argued Tran was a danger to both himself and other employees because he had been involved in an earlier collision with another forklift back in February.
However Fair Work Commission deputy president Jeff Lawrence was not satisfied there was a valid reason for Tran’s dismissal.
“At the highest level, the applicant had received a verbal counselling [back in February] and had been stood down from forklift duties for a week while the investigation took place,” Lawrence said.
Get SmartCompany FREE to your inbox every weekday.
“He had not received a written warning. When the 5 March incident occurred, he was driving forklifts. Even though the applicant breached policy, there were rational explanations for his actions. The applicant was honest and contrite in co-operating in the investigation.”
Warwick Ryan, workplace relations expert and partner at Swaab Attorneys, told SmartCompany mistakes in the workplace can cost people their lives.
“They [the Commission] have set a precedent here where an individual can be persistently careless in the workplace and be allowed to continue to operate and potentially endanger workmates,” Ryan says.
“In this case, there was a major factor that came into play – the age of the individual. That was a primary factor [in the final decision]. They took a great deal of sympathy to this individual even though it was his second accident.”
SmartCompany contacted Parmalat Food Products for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.