Workplace & Employment

Tears and Christmas Cheers

In a recent decision the Fair Work Commission determined a sacking as reasonable and therefore valid in view of an employee’s alcohol-fuelled bad behaviour at a work Christmas party. The employee’s defence was that his actions were his employers fault because they provided too much alcohol. The Commissioner rejected this and found that, “how much alcohol someone drinks is a choice”.

Let’s set the scene by casting our minds back to the 2015 Christmas party season. All across the land people are at work celebrations for the Christmas season partaking in a festive drink. One of these people, let’s call him Mr Smith, is in the process of drinking an open bar dry. This enthusiastic imbibing would soon result in Mr Smith’s involvement in two physical altercations and, ultimately, an abrupt change to his employment status. First, he pushed a fully-clothed co-worker into the swimming pool, and then he had a punch up with the GM — definitely not a good career move.

Needless to say his workplace  investigated his behaviour and found it so inappropriate, antisocial and outside the bounds of expected behaviour at a work-sponsored function that they sacked him. But Mr Smith cried foul and blamed his pugilist behaviour on the open bar and unlimited alcohol, thus abrogating responsibility and laying blame at the feet of his employer. But the Fair Work Commission would have none of it and rejected Mr Smith’s abrogation outright. As Commissioner Williams said in his judgment, “How much alcohol someone drinks is a choice they make and with that choice comes consequences. Society no longer readily accepts alcohol consumption as an excuse for bad behaviour, and certainly not for physical violence.”

It’s interesting to note that this finding was the complete opposite of Stephen Keenan v Leighton Boral Amey NSW Pty Ltd which I wrote about in November 2015, as in this case, the Commission found that the employer did share part of the blame for serving unlimited free alcohol to its employees, and the dismissal in that case was held to be unreasonable.

For more details, check out McDaid v Future Engineering and Communication Pty Ltd, and do not hesitate to contact us if you’d like to chat about how we can help you develop your company’s work place behaviour policy.