A MINING contractor has been ordered to pay compensation to two employees after the Fair Work Commission found they had been unfairly dismissed on allegations relating to the on-site distribution of methamphetamines.
The two former road train drivers, who were then working for CQ Group at the Roy Hill project in Western Australia, were dismissed after a complaint emerged alleging company credit cards had been used to purchase methamphetamines.
The complainant indicated that he had been pressured by the two workers and a third anonymous supervisor to purchase the methamphetamine ‘ice’ and threatened if he did not comply.
In particular, it was alleged the pair would leave the site with the complainant and force him to use the company credit card to withdraw money from automatic teller machines for the purchase of drugs.
Further, it was said the arrangement led to extended absences from the site in which one of the workers would drive the allocated truck around and complete the relevant paper work so the complainant appeared to still be working.
On investigation, it was found the pair were known on-site as the ‘Chemical Brothers’, but both employees argued the reputation reflected ‘difficulties in relationships with a number of co-workers which was manifested in rumour and innuendo about drug use’.
Urinalysis tests also returned negative results, and the initial complainant did not appear to give evidence on grounds that ‘he was in fear of reprisals should he do so’.
Ultimately, Senior Deputy President Peter Richards ruled there was insufficient evidence supporting the employees’ dismissal.
“While there may be evidence as to the conduct of [the workers] in relation to leaving site during night shifts, the evidence does not travel further than this, or support an inference that [they were] accessing Employee X’s credit card for the purposes of purchasing drugs,” he said.
Further, he noted the employees had not been granted procedural fairness as the company failed to inform them as to why they were being dismissed, and did not provide an opportunity for the employees to contest the decision.
Senior DP Richards awarded compensation equalling five weeks’ salary to one of the workers, and eight weeks’ salary to the other.
Implications for employers
As well as emphasising the need to have reasonable grounds for terminating an employment contract, this case also highlights the importance of upholding the provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 relating to procedural fairness relating to employee dismissal.
In particular, Senior DP Richards pointed to the organisation’s oversight in informing the employees as to why they were dismissed, as well as failing to provide an opportunity for the employees to respond to the allegations made against them.
Additionally, the employees were not provided with a support person during the process.
AMMA’s workplace relations specialists, however, can guide your organisation through the dismissal process and ensure business obligations and responsibilities under the Act are properly met. For advice, information and guidance on termination and other workplace relations matters, contact your local AMMA office.