A BHP company has been ordered to pay compensation to a female truck driver sacked for putting a sex toy and butter knives in a colleague’s hand luggage before he went through airport security, and posing for a selfie at work standing on a table in a shirt unbuttoned to the bottom of her bra.
Employers slammed the Fair Work Commission’s decision to award $6550 compensation to Tara Odgers after the tribunal found she was unfairly dismissed because Central Queensland Services did not follow the disciplinary process in the enterprise agreement covering the BHP-operated Caval Ridge Mine.
Ms Odgers put the sex toy and butter knives in her colleague’s hand luggage and filmed him on her mobile phone as he went through security at Moranbah Airport on October 16 last year.
An X-ray machine flagged the bag and security staff searched through his luggage before placing the sex toy and butter knives on a counter. Ms Odgers was required by “very stern” security staff to hand over her phone and the footage was deleted.
Ms Odgers said it was a prank to get back at her colleague, who was her housemate, for “horseplay” when he put pizza on the roof of her camp room. Asked in cross-examination if a sex toy might be considered an offensive object, she said: “Well, most people have one.”
In the second incident in March this year, the commission found Ms Odgers stood on a meal room table with two female colleagues before they unbuttoned their tops down to the last two buttons and “provocatively bared the top of their breasts while leaning forward” for a ‘selfie” which was later posted, without Ms Odgers’s knowledge, on Facebook.
Commissioner Jennifer Hunt said it defied belief how any of the women thought it would be a good idea to pose for such a selfie in the workplace.
She found Ms Odgers invented evidence she gave to the commission and made a false statement during management’s investigation. Given Ms Odgers was 49 years old at the time of the hearing, she said there was no rational explanation for her immature conduct.
Finding there was a valid reason to dismiss her, Commissioner Hunt said Ms Odgers breached the BHP charter values of respect and integrity, and its code of conduct which says employees should never behave in way that may be perceived as offensive.
But she found the dismissal was “unjust and unreasonable” as management did not follow the enterprise agreement’s “fair play guidelines” which set out a four-step disciplinary process involving counselling and warnings. She said she was deeply troubled by the company’s failure to meet its lawful obligations and awarded her compensation, not reinstatement.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s workplace relations director Scott Barklamb said the “absurd” decision showed workplace laws needed to change to assist employers trying to combat unacceptable employee conduct.
He said the ruling sent a message that employees could not only get away with irresponsible conduct, but be rewarded for it.