Tradie awarded $8,000 after being unfairly dismissed for running over boss’ pet galah

Crackers the galah was sadly rundown at a property in Queensland, sparking the Fair Work case. Unsplash/Gozha Net

A young tradie has won $8000 in compensation after being sacked for reversing a vehicle over his boss’s beloved pet galah Crackers.

Queenslander Blake O’Keeffe brought the application to the Fair Work Commission, who found he deserved no more than a written warning for the tragic accident.

Direct Fencing boss Gregg Dunshea told SmartCompany he felt “disappointment, however not surprised” by the result, saying he thinks Fair Work has a bias towards the employee.

But managing partner at Marque Lawyers Michael Bradley says the case boils down to one question: is running over the boss’s bird, unintentionally, a sufficiently serious act of misconduct to warrant summary dismissal?

“Generally, you have to be caught stealing money or literally murder a workmate for summary dismissal to be considered appropriate by the courts,” Bradley continues.

The emotion of the case was heightened by the bond between O’Keeffe and his boss, Gregg Dunshea, who described the young tradie as “part of the family”.

O’Keeffe was a long-time employee at Direct Fencing in Bundaberg and had spent time around property’s pets including dogs — and Crackers, who couldn’t fly.

While wrapping up one Friday, the tradie noticed the brightly coloured bird was hopping along the ground in the pathway of a truck he needed to reverse.

The commission’s Deputy President Nicholas Lake heard O’Keeffe had initially tried to coax the bird with a mop handle.

“He did not want to pick him up because when he had tried to do so previously, Crackers would bite him,” the commission heard.

But Crackers was not to be swayed by the mop, so O’Keeffe tried a wooden broom handle, hoping it would remind the bird of his wooden perch inside.

A huffy Crackers ended up running under another truck nearby, and believing the coast was clear, O’Keeffe jumped in the first truck, checked the mirrors and reversed.

Sadly, Crackers was lying in a heap.

Initially, Dunshea had placated the young tradie, who was choked up by the scene, but Dunshea was angered and hurt by what he later saw on the CCTV footage.

The commission heard O’Keeffe’s claim he was told by his boss “You’ve turned into someone I despise, you’re the worst kind of person, a person who doesn’t think about how their actions will affect other people”.

Dunshea told the commission there was a strict rule in place whereby Crackers needed to be elevated if vehicles or machines were operated, but O’Keeffe says he’d never heard that directive, only more broad advice to “watch out for Crackers”.

In his view, Dunshea told SmartCompany, O’Keeffe “choose to ignore the rules and also the procedure to manage that situation” even though he knew Crackers was nearby — because no one was watching.

Ultimately, Lake found, the tragic loss of Crackers’ life warranted a warning, not a swift termination, and ordered O’Keeffe be paid $8000 in compensation.

Bradley says Dunshea would’ve been frustrated by that last point — he “would, of course, say what, I was supposed to issue him a warning instead, to not run over my bird again?”

But the appropriate warning would’ve been to “take proper care while driving, particularly for known hazards,” Bradley continues.

So what’s the typical rule for this sort of thing? Lake outlined in his ruling that the employee must be warned either verbally or in writing that they’ll be terminated should there be no improvement.

“The small business employer must provide the employee with an opportunity to respond to the warning and give the employee a reasonable chance to rectify the problem, having regard to the employee’s response,” Lake says.

Ultimately, Bradley thinks the outcome was appropriate.

“Sometimes the law accidentally coincides with fairness and I’d say this is one of those occasions,” he says.

“Sacking the poor guy with no notice was very harsh.”


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Josephine Norman
Josephine Norman
2 months ago

I have had something similar happen when a tradesperson ignored my requests and in so doing led to the death of one of our much-loved parrots. He denied he was responsible, despite all evidence to the contrary. If he had admitted what he had done and apologised I would have used his services again. Nobody knows how to ‘own up’ and say ‘sorry’ anymore.

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