Many employers fail to provide adequate workplace training, which means employees often don’t know how to act appropriately in certain situations. For example, when operating machinery, interacting with customers or using social media, to name just a few. Recent Fair Work Commission unfair dismissal cases show us that failing to receive adequate workplace training is often a reason why dismissals are deemed unfair. Many employers put in place a range of policies to dictate how staff should act in a variety of circumstances. But if they don’t provide adequate workplace training, employees may not know how to comply with company policies. Why workplace training is critical is important reading for all employees
What workplace training should your employer provide?
When you start a new job, your employer will likely put you through a workplace training induction. This could be to ensure that you understand your work health and safety requirements, particularly if you are in a role that, for example, requires manual work or operating heavy machinery. Your employer should also provide workplace training to ensure that you understand their company policies. Many companies have a range of workplace policies, and as such, it’s often hard to remember and understand everything on your own.
These policies will dictate the standards that you as an employee must uphold. For instance, when interacting with customers or using social media. They can also dictate dress standards while at work and the use of company equipment. And they can tell you your employer’s expectations around the consumption of drugs and alcohol at work. Or outline behaviours that are considered bullying or harassment.
Employers must ensure you understand company policies
Your employer’s workplace policies must also outline the consequences of any failure to comply. And not only that, your employer can’t simply create a workplace policy without making an effort to ensure you are aware of them. They must proactively ensure that you and all staff fully understand their policies. This is where workplace training comes in. That’s why when an employee is dismissed for breaching company policy, but they weren’t provided workplace training to ensure they understood the policy, they can often have a good unfair dismissal claim to make with the Fair Work Commission. This was the case in two recent unfair dismissal cases involving a pair of firefighters.
Firefighters dismissed for serious misconduct argue they weren’t trained properly
Two firefighters dismissed by essential services company Ventia Australia recently challenged their dismissals through the Fair Work Commission. And one of the key reasons they believed they were unfairly dismissed was the lack of workplace training provided by their employer.
One of the firefighters had created a private Facebook group, which he called the “Sickos video sharing group.” The group page included a range of inappropriate material. This included pornography, racist memes, and work-related chat. The firefighter had posted multiple pornographic videos and photo albums, including one while at work.
In posts on the group page, the firefighter boasted that he was “pretty much the union.” And as such, he “will blackmail [the regional manager]” to do “anything I say.” To those who decided to leave the group, the firefighter would brand them “f*ckin C platoon soft cocks” and “pussies.”
The second firefighter who was dismissed had similarly posted inappropriate content to the group’s page. This included a video of a woman in a bikini. Also, a meme featuring the backs of three nude women, with the caption “new, used and worn shock absorbers.” These were posted outside of work hours.
The second firefighter had also during work hours posted a photo that made light of his employer. The co-worker had just returned from an extended period of sick leave. The photo was of the co-worker in the carpark. Next to it was another photo of an old bicycle with a fire extinguisher equipped to each side of the rack behind the seat. This was intended to make light of a recently purchased fire engine.
Another firefighter who wasn’t dismissed also made a few contributions to the group. This included posting a video of woman in her underwear. And a meme that read “Call a girl beautiful one thousand times and she won’t notice. Call her fat once and she’ll never forget. That’s because elephants never forget.”
Fair Work Commission rules on unfair dismissal claims
After being dismissed for serious misconduct, both firefighters made unfair dismissal claims via the Fair Work Commission. They both had their unfair dismissal hearings in 2023 (Mr Adam Thompson v Ventia Australia Pty Ltd T/A Ventia  and Mr Martin Pelly v Ventia Australia Pty Ltd T/A Ventia )
The Fair Work Commission ruled that the dismissal of the first firefighter was fair. This was because he distributed pornography via the Facebook group while he was at work, rather than out of work hours. The Fair Work Commission noted that had the firefighter simply viewed pornography on his phone while at work on a single occasion, his dismissal would likely be deemed “harsh.” However, by distributing pornography, the firefighter’s conduct was “much more serious.”
However, in regards to the second firefighter, the Fair Work Commission found that his dismissal was “unjust and unreasonable.” It was accepted that the post about the new fire engine and old bicycle “could be regarded as being disrespectful and offensive to management.” However, the manager who decided to dismiss the firefighter later revised his witness statement. He stated that he no longer considered some of the allegations against the firefighter as serious.
The Fair Work Commission therefore treated the bicycle post as a misdemeanour. It therefore ruled that the second firefighter, who was considered a “model employee,” be reinstated to his role. The Fair Work Commission also noted that the third firefighter’s elephant post was an “outrageous slur against overweight women.”
Fair Work Commission calls out “unnecessarily haphazard” workplace training
Ventia had argued to the Fair Work Commission that both firefighters had violated multiple workplace policies. This included its bullying and harassment policy, social media standard and code of conduct. But in their defence, both firefighters stated Ventia had provided them with minimal or no workplace training on the policies. As a result of this insufficient workplace training, the firefighters argued that they had no comprehension of what Ventia expected with regard to using social media. And they did not know how social media use could be viewed as relevant to their employment.
The Fair Work Commission stated that Ventia had the right to expect that employee’s would not use social media to distribute obscene content. However, it also took issue with the company’s lack of workplace training around the appropriate use of social media. The Fair Work Commission characterized the workplace training Ventia provided as “unnecessarily haphazard.” And that the company’s approach to workplace training seemed to take a “self-taught, tick and flick approach.”
The Fair Work Commission found that this style of workplace training was “not appropriate” and lacked the “educational rigour” of face-to-face training. And that as a result, it is “evident that some employees don’t understand the meaning of appropriate workplace behaviour.”
Why workplace training is so critical for health and safety
The aforementioned case shows why it’s critical for employers to provide training on company policies. But perhaps even more important is the need to provide training to ensure employees and the workplace are safe. Often, employers may skip workplace training around safety procedures and protocol as they consider it an unnecessary expense. But it can cost them far more in fines for failing to do so. And their employees often have to pay with their health and safety, as you will read in the cases below.
Sewerage worker wins $753,000 for injuries sustained due to lack of workplace training
In the NSW Court of Appeal case Shoalhaven City Council v Humphries . A worker tasked with cleaning sewer main manholes sustained injuries due to his employer’s disregard for workplace training.The worker had been assigned to work at Shoalhaven City Council by his employer. He received no workplace training from the Council to perform the task of removing manhole covers. However, he had been provided training for working in confined spaces. In February 2008, the worker severely injured his back and shoulder while lifting a manhole cover. The cover weighed between 75 and 85 kilograms.
The Court awarded the worker $753,036 in damages for his injuries – a decision that the Council appealed. The Court later found that the worker’s employer likely knew that he would be required to perform heavy lifting as part of his role at the Council. And therefore, the employer should have taken steps to determine if the Council had a system of work in place to ensure safety when lifting heavy items.
The Court found that the employer had violated its duty of care for the worker. However, it also found that the breach did not cause the worker’s injury. The Court reasoned that had the employer made inquiries with the Council into their system of work, they would have been told that it was in place. The problem was that the safe system was not followed by the Council when the accident happened. The Court therefore did not reduce the amount of damages awarded to the worker.
Inadequate workplace training leads to 17-year-old having fingers amputated
In the NSW District Court case, SafeWork NSW v Thermal Electric Elements Pty Ltd . A provider of electric heating and cooling appliances was fined a whopping $250,000. This was as a result of an accident caused by an employee’s lack of workplace training.
The Court had found that Thermal Electric Elements had failed to provide adequate workplace training for a 17-year-old work experience student. The student was tasked with operating a brake press machine. He had been provided with a “general” induction by a trade qualified toolmaker. However, the actual training to operate the machine was issued by a sheet metal fabricator lacking suitable qualifications. And the fabricator had only been employed for just under eight weeks.
Thermal Electric Elements had also failed to provide the boy with any procedures on how to safely operate the brake press machine. And the company failed to assess or test his skills with the machine prior to him using it. Without the necessary training, the student was allowed to operate a brake press machine without supervision. And unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, he was soon involved in an accident which saw his left had crushed. The horrific injury required the student to have the tips of two fingers amputated. And, he lost the ability to perform fine motor skills with his hand too.
How to complain if your employer hasn’t provided workplace safety training
As these court cases show, employers who ignore their duty to provide adequate workplace training can place their employees at grave risk of serious, life-altering injury. If your employer has not provided adequate workplace health and safety training, don’t let them get away with it. Make sure you lodge a complaint with Safe Work Australia.
Conclusion to Why workplace training is critical
With a time limit of just 21 days to file your unfair dismissal claim, acting swiftly is crucial. As Australia’s leading workplace advisors and commenters, we have empowered over 16,000 employees to take action through the Fair Work Commission. And we can do the same for you. Our commitment is simple: a no win, no fee service that ensures you only pay when your claim is successful. Your initial consultation with us is not only free but also confidential, allowing you to discuss your case openly without any obligations.
What sets us apart? With over two decades of experience, we are renowned for our expertise in workplace issues. Our track record speaks for itself, as we have guided thousands of workers toward a just resolution. Trust us to provide the expert guidance and advice necessary to make your unfair dismissal claim a success.
Don’t delay any further; take that crucial first step toward a fair resolution. Schedule a private consultation by calling us at 1800 333 666. Remember, time is of the essence, and A Whole New Approach is ready to fight for your rights and help you achieve justice.