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December 2019

Not all acts of intoxication should result in dismissal

Not all acts of intoxication should result in dismissal

The Case

Ryan Wilks Pty Ltd v Puszka (2019)

Ms Puszka was a Project Administrator for Ryan Wilks Pty Ltd (R Wilks). Ms Puszka worked with R Wilks’ biggest client, the Sydney Opera House. Ms Puszka attended farewell drinks for a Sydney Opera House employee, became intoxicated, allegedly insulted colleagues, made sexual advances to an employee, vomited at the venue and was given a taxi ride home.

R Wilks was notified and an investigation ensued. Ms Puszka was interviewed, along with other persons. The allegations of insulting colleagues and making sexual advances could not be substantiated. Nevertheless, a decision was made to summarily dismiss Ms Puszka for getting drunk and vomiting at the venue. Ms Puszka filed an unfair dismissal claim.

The Verdict

At first instance, Commissioner Cambridge of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) held the dismissal was unfair, finding R Wilks had conducted an “incomplete and truncated” investigation. Commissioner Cambridge acknowledged Ms Puszka’s conduct warranted disciplinary action but fell short of employment termination for serious misconduct. R Wilks appealed to the Full Bench of the FWC, which dismissed the appeal, meaning Ms Puszka was reinstated.

The Lessons

Careful consideration needs to be given prior to dealing with drunk employees at work-authorised functions. Not all conduct will provide grounds for employment termination.

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