A Sydney Trains employee was reinstated after telling his manager to “get f***ed”. The employee expressed concerns about the health and safety of the workplace, including the toxic culture and was ignored by management. After the outburst, the employee was suspended for four months before he was dismissed. The Fair Work Commission decided the dismissal was unfair and ordered reinstatement.
The employee, a health and safety officer for Sydney Trains tried to raise the issue of psychological safety at work repeatedly but was consistently shut down and ignored by managers. The employee emailed in response to an employee survey complaining of the toxic workplace culture at Sydney Trains. This email was ignored, and the employee was placed on a personal conduct improvement plan as a result.
Later at a meeting to discuss new technology the employee again expressed concerns about safety at Sydney Trains. When his manager disagreed the employee told him to “get f***ed” and walked out. His manager followed him outside and the employee said, “I’m trying hard not to punch you in the face, you need to step away from me.” But then immediately apologised.
After this incident, the employee was suspended for four months and then dismissed on the grounds he had threatened the manager and breached Sydney Trains Code of Conduct. The employee had been with the company for 22 years with an untarnished record.
The Fair Work Commission found the employee’s dismissal to be unfair and ordered reinstatement. Although the employee’s language was inappropriate and would have been a valid reason for dismissal, his comments outside the meeting were not a threat but in an attempt to de-escalate the situation and no physical aggression occurred. The employee showed remorse and apologised for his behaviour, but Sydney Trains left him suspended for an unreasonable amount of time to investigate the incident. The employer should have taken swift action to discipline the employee in another way to restore the relationship between employee and manager.
Sydney Trains had ignored the employee’s valid concerns about safety and workplace culture, which contributed to the eventual outburst. The Fair Work Commission commented that Sydney Trains handling of the event demonstrated the poor workplace culture.
Although using inappropriate language would generally result in dismissal, in this case, the context of the outburst was evidence of the toxic workplace culture and provocation from the manager.
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