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Norman Waterhouse

What happens when a bully calls a colleague a peanut

Bullying should not be tolerated in the workplace. This is especially the case when the bully is in a position of authority over other employees.

The effects of bullying can have a significant detrimental impact on workplace culture as well as the health of individuals. However, in the recent decision of Leslie Peter Beddoes v Safety Barrier Solutions Pty Ltd T/A Safety Barrier Solutions [2020] FWC 577, the Fair Work Commission (the Commission) found that while a supervisor had made a number of degrading remarks towards a member of his crew, placed a large metal object down an employee’s underpants, and there were continued concerns about his attitude, the supervisors termination of employment was found to be unfair due to a lack of procedural fairness.

Facts

Mr Leslie Beddoes had been employed by Safety Barrier Solutions Pty Ltd (SBS) as a crew supervisor for roughly two and a half years. On 23 September 2019, Mr Beddoes was summarily dismissed following allegations of workplace bullying.

Mr Beddoes lodged an application for unfair dismissal.

Mr Beddoes’ termination was directly related to a complaint made by a member of his crew. The complaint made allegations as to Mr Beddoes’ conduct during work hours, including that he:

  • Repeatedly called the employee a ‘peanut’, and wrote such on the employee’s safety helmet;
  • Stuck a metal podgy bar down the employee’s underpants; and
  • Instructed his crew to collect cans and bottles so that he could cash them in for his own personal gain.

It was also alleged by the SA Branch Project Manager, Mr Sam Neville, that Mr Beddoes had little to no respect for authority. When asked during cross examination, Mr Neville had difficulty in detailing specific instances that led to this conclusion, besides an occasion where Mr Beddoes refused to shake the hand of the National Operations Manager, Mr Adam Griffiths.

Mr Neville conceded that he did not investigate the allegations put forward in the complaint. Notwithstanding this concession, Mr Neville considered the allegations were serious enough to warrant summary dismissal, and proceeded to terminate Mr Beddoes employment without notice.

Mr Beddoes agreed that the incident with the podgy bar was inappropriate and that he had little respect for SBS management. Interestingly, Mr Beddoes did not see any problem in calling his colleague a ‘peanut’, as neither the subject employee nor anybody else had complained to him.

Decision

In determining whether Mr Beddoes’ termination was harsh, unjust or unreasonable under s 387 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), the Commission found that all three substantiated allegations in the complaint were valid reasons for dismissal, as Mr Beddoes’ behaviour “fell short of the standard required of a modern-day Supervisor.”

However, Mr Beddoes was not provided with an opportunity to respond to the allegations made against him and was not notified of the reason for termination prior to the date on which he was summarily dismissed. The Commission noted the employer’s absence of a dedicated human resources team, though they did not consider this enough to outweigh the lack of procedural fairness afforded to Mr Beddoes. The Commission concluded that Mr Beddoes’ dismissal was harsh.

Due to the breakdown in the employment relationship between SBS and Mr Beddoes, the Commission agreed that reinstatement would not have been appropriate, and awarded Mr Beddoes $2,430 in compensation, which included a significant deduction of 50% on account for Mr Beddoes’ misconduct.

Take Home Message

This decision serves as a reminder that when conducting a workplace investigation, an employee should always be provided with an opportunity to respond to allegations made against them, no matter how serious they may appear.

For more specific information on any of the material contained in this article please contact Lincoln Smith on +61 8 8210 1203 or lsmith@normans.com.au or Ganesh Krishnan on +61 8 8217 1395 or gkrishnan@normans.com.au.

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