Unfair dismissal win for worker who made throat-cutting threat
You may think that an instant dismissal is a fair and reasonable outcome if an employee threatens to kill a co-worker. After all, it’s the most serious kind of threat you can make. And employers are legally bound to ensure the health and safety of employees. However, as you’ll read in this article, it’s not always the case that a dismissal for threatening to kill is seen as fair by the Fair Work Commission. Is it considered serious misconduct, a unfair dismissal win for worker or otherwise?
And sometimes, as you’ll read below, making threats to kill won’t even see you dismissed. Let’s look at two shocking cases where employees have threatened to kill co-workers and how extenuating circumstances saw them avoid a dismissal.
Mineworker wins unfair dismissal despite threatening to cut co-worker’s throat
In the unfair dismissal case Mr Paul Weston v Coal & Allied Mining Services Pty Limited , a mineworker who threatened to cut the throat of a colleague was reinstated by the Fair Work Commission.
50-year-old Paul Weston had been employed by Coal and Allied Mining for 12 years. As a drill worker, he plied his trade at an open cut mine in NSW’s Hunter Valley region. Mr Weston had an unblemished record at the company. So highly regarded was he that during a performance appraisal, Mr Weston’s supervisor said “I wish I had a crew of Paul Westons.”
But in August 2022, Mr Weston’s perfect record was sullied for the first time after an incident stemming from his “housekeeping” duties. This involves cleaning the drill and collecting any rubbish around it. In the mining industry, it’s widely known that drill workers are often dissatisfied with the housekeeping performed by others.
“F**k off back to trucks:” An altercation ensues
Mr Weston had just finished his day shift to make way for Mr Williams, who was starting his night shift operating the drill. And Mr Williams didn’t like the look of the housekeeping performed on the drill, having already reported it to his supervisor.
Speaking to Mr Weston and another drill operator, Mr Williams said: “I bet your drill will be dirty” and “He doesn’t know how to clean the drill rig.” He then told Mr Weston: “well if you are not going to look after the drills and clean it, f**k off back to trucks.” This was a reference to Mr Weston’s previous role as a dump truck operator. Mr Weston, naturally, didn’t take lightly to this insult. He walked right up to Mr Williams, and with their stomachs touching, said to him: “what are you going to do about it?” Tensions rose even further when the duo walked over to a supervisor.
It was at this point that Mr Weston spoke the words that would see him dismissed. He stated to the supervisor: “if this bloke says to go back to the trucks one more time I will cut his throat.” Alarmed by this threat, the supervisor attempted to guide Mr Weston away from Mr Williams with his hand. During this altercation, Mr Weston claimed that Mr Williams had called him a him a “lying c**t”, “fat c**t” or “fat lazy c**t.” However, it was deemed there was insufficient evidence for this claim during his unfair dismissal hearing.
Mr Weston is dismissed, makes unfair dismissal claim
Following the verbal threat, Mr Weston was dismissed by Coal and Allied Mining for serious misconduct. He subsequently made an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission. At the unfair dismissal hearing, Fair Work Commission Deputy President Saunders considered a number of factors to determine if Mr Weston had been unfairly dismissed. This included Mr Weston’s:
- Unblemished record at Coal and Allied Mining, stating that the threat was “uncharacteristic.” The Deputy President noted that it was the first time he had behaved in an “aggressive manner” at work.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which he had developed in Somalia while serving in the Australian Defense Force. While Mr Weston’s PTSD didn’t excuse his behaviour, Deputy President Saunders felt that it contributed to his serious misconduct.
- Inability to find employment following his dismissal. The 50-year-old Mr Weston claimed that his age and PTSD were preventing him from finding another job.
The Fair Work Commission rules the dismissal unfair
Considering all these factors, Deputy President Saunders ruled that Mr Weston had received an unfair dismissal. He ordered Allied Mining to reinstate him to his position, however, Mr Weston wasn’t awarded any compensation for his $26,000 worth of lost pay. This was because Deputy President Saunders felt that the lost pay would highlight that Mr Weston’s serious misconduct was “inappropriate and must not happen again.”
Key to the decision to reinstate Mr Weston was that he had expressed contrition for his serious misconduct, stating that his behaviour was unacceptable. He had accepted that he had violated Coal and Allied Mining’s code of conduct. This was critical for Deputy President Saunders to deem that there was sufficient trust and confidence in the employment relationship to make reinstatement viable.
Gold Coast hospital worker rehired after threatening to kill co-workers
The employee in this story never actually made an unfair dismissal claim. In fact, he was never even dismissed, but rather simply stood down, which is remarkable considering what he did. The story involved 40-year-old Matthew John Hunter, a surgical theatre supervisor at the Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH). In 2014, Mr Hunter went on an alcohol-fueled bender and decided to drunk-dial his work, with the intention of calling in sick. But Mr Hunter, for some undisclosed reason, was offended by the nurse who answered his call.
Enraged and fully in the grips of intoxication, Mr Hunter then proceeded to call his work nine times to spew abuse and make numerous threats. Namely, that he would track down two female nurses and harm them and himself. He said that he’d do this in public, so as to create a chaotic scene.
Mr Hunter claimed that he had access to the hospital’s database and would use it to find out where the two nurses lived. His threats sent the hospital into a five-hour long code black lockdown. All staff were prevented from leaving. Police attempted to track Mr Hunter’s phone calls. And security guards were sent to man all entrances to the hospital to await the maniacal Mr Hunter.
Employee is arrested, sentenced, and stood down
Mr Hunter was soon arrested by police, with his rap sheet including three Commonwealth offences. That is, using a carriage service to menace, as well as making threats to cause serious harm and kill. Amazingly, rather than being dismissed, he was later stood down indefinitely by the hospital.
Appearing before court, Mr Hunter claimed that he had no recollection of the incident. And his lawyer told the court that Mr Hunter was an alcoholic. He also claimed that he had been bullied at work and had been feeling stressed about the hospital’s recent relocation. Mr Hunter entered a guilty plea for using a telephone service to menace, harass or offend. And he was subsequently handed two years’ probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 good behaviour bond.
Employee returns to work amid outcry
Exactly a year after the incident and being stood down, Mr Hunter recommenced his position at the hospital. But many of his co-workers expressed concern, wondering why he wasn’t dismissed. “It isn’t a personal thing, it is simply a matter of principle — how do you do that, get your job back and continue to work along the people you have threatened,” said an anonymous co-worker.
While another said: “His face was on the news threatening to shut down GCUH. The whole place is just livid, it’s ridiculous.”
Take a ways
Have you been unfairly dismissed for aggressive behaviour?
I hope the brief article “Unfair dismissal win for worker” has been helpful to you. As we saw in the case of Mr Weston, there were a range of extenuating and contextual circumstances that saw his dismissal deemed unfair. Even after making a threat to a co-worker’s, it’s not always clear cut that a dismissal is fair and reasonable.
A Whole New Approach offers unparalleled support for employees who have been unfairly dismissed from their jobs. With a track record of over 16,000 successful cases as seasoned workplace mediators, we guide workers through the intricate process of filing a claim for unfair dismissal. Our goal is to help you safeguard your employment and prevent any unfair dismissal. All casual employee, workplace harassment, workplace investigations concerns, give us a call
And, there’s no risk for you as our services come with a no win, no fee guarantee. Take advantage of our complimentary initial consultation to understand your rights and options. Don’t face the consequences of an unfair dismissal alone. Contact us at 1800 333 666 for a confidential conversation.
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