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Zero tolerance: Drinking in the Workplace

by Marquette Turner

in News & Views

A recent case serves as a warning to all employees to be aware of “zero tolerance” policies that apply at their place of work and ensure their conduct does not contravene those policies. In May 2007, Woolworths dismissed one of its store managers for drinking two beers during his lunch break. The store manager, who had over 20 years of service with Woolworths was dismissed because the consumption of alcohol during working hours (including meal breaks) was strictly prohibited and was expressed in several company policies as well as the manager’s employment contract. Woolworths’ decision to terminate the employee’s employment was upheld by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) in October 2007 and the application was dismissed. Woolworths’ decision to terminate was further upheld by a full bench of the AIRC on appeal in February 2008.

Does the punishment of dismissal really fit the “crime” in this instance? If you are generally an exemplary employee, in a position of seniority and have been in a position for several years, should one slight break of the rules cost you your job? In this case, the AIRC upheld the dismissal and found that it was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable because the manager had breached an express term and condition of his employment contract. This strict approach suggests that a wilful disregard of zero tolerance policies will not be viewed lightly by the courts. This decision further highlights the fact that employers are entitled to take appropriate disciplinary action when their employees are found to have breached express terms and conditions of employment.

Selak v Woolworths Limited [2008] AIRCFB 81 (8 February, 2008)

Simon Turner simon@marquetteturner.com.au

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