Fair Work Australia has ordered the reinstatement of an employee who was sacked for telling his boss to “get f … ed”.
Security guard Craig Symes was sacked from Linfox Armaguard last year after he told his manager to “get f … ed”, complained about the “f … ing roster” and then raised a fist in the air and hit a notice board “with some force” while carrying a loaded gun.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
Symes, who had worked with the company since 2000, snapped during a monthly communications meeting last December after having a fight with his wife before going to work.
“He was frustrated with his wife and, in hindsight, should not have come in [to work],” FWA heard.
He swore at manager Aryn Hala after being assigned to an armoured van with a faulty indicator.
Symes told FWA he said “get f … ed” in an “exasperated, not aggressive or agitated tone” and merely “poked the board once or twice with his right index finger” in a manner that caused his finger to be injured from being bent backwards.
He later telephoned and apologised as well as apologising in writing but was sacked the next day.
FWA ruled Symes’ behaviour amounted to misconduct but found his dismissal was harsh.
Linfox Armaguard has a policy that swearing in the workplace is not tolerated, but it conceded that it is a “robust workplace” and that swearing does occur.
Symes told FWA that whether or not the use of bad language is considered to amount to misconduct depends on factors such as context, location, the person it is directed towards and the manner in which it is said.
FWA Commissioner Helen Cargill found that Syme’s swearing was “totally inappropriate and unwarranted”.
She found that swearing at a person was “of a different character” to swearing at an object, or as an adjective.
Cargill said it was “also relevant to consider the evidence that the respondent’s workplace is one in which bad language is commonly used and in which … employees may have received mixed messages about such use”.
She said the swearing was not “overheard by other employees, which could have undermined Mr Halas’ authority”.
“I accept that physical violence in the workplace is not appropriate, however, hitting an inanimate object such as the roster board is in a different category of behaviour to violence towards a person.”
Cargill ordered Linfox Armaguard to reinstate Symes with back pay – less six weeks’ pay as a penalty.
The Queensland branch of the Transport Workers’ Union of Australia represented Symes at the hearing and TWU assistant treasurer Scott Connolly told SmartCompany the case did not herald a deterioration of what is considered good manners in the workplace.
“The decision in favour of the driver recognised that his sacking, after those specific events at that workplace, was harsh,” says Connolly.
“The foul language was used because the driver had been assigned a faulty vehicle, and his concerns about that were not properly addressed.
“This decision isn’t about language; it’s about respect in the workplace – and that’s a two-way street.”
Connolly says there is no excuse for using bad language at work and the driver acknowledged that through verbal and written apologies.
“But there’s also no excuse for ignoring employees’ serious concerns about safety, in an industry in which people get killed,” he says.
“This is a sensible decision, and we want employers and employees to take notice of it.”
Linfox Armaguard was contacted by SmartCompany this morning but failed to respond prior to publication.