Sacked for drinking coffee on the job
Published on: Jun 01 2016
The Fair Work Commission has awarded a part time cleaner $9187.20 in compensation after he was fired for having a cup of coffee on the job.
The cleaner, an international student on a visa which restricts him from working more than 20 hours a week, recently completed a Masters degree in IT and was working in an office block in Sydney CBD.
According to the decision, “On January 12, he arrived 45 minutes early for work and had a cup of coffee with another cleaner while waiting for their 6:30PM starting time. When the cleaners walked to the office lifts with their coffee cups, the office and facilities manager asked them where the coffee was from. She said: "You are not allowed to make coffee." To which the cleaner replied: "We are sorry, we did not intentionally want to upset you. We did not know we were not allowed to."
When she replied OK, the cleaner assumed the apology had been accepted”.
Following the incident, the manager complained to Glad Group Pty Ltd., who were contracted to provide cleaning services and requested the cleaners be removed. The manager escalated her complaint to Glad, who then sacked the cleaners for serious misconduct, despite both employees offering explanations and apologising for any misunderstanding.
Barbara Nebart, Branch Secretary of the SDA Newcastle and Northern said today, "The decision underlines the importance of joining a union and strong unfair dismissal laws which apply across the board to all workers, including international students. The cleaner was a member of United Voice and I echo the sentiments of the Secretary of United Voice NSW, Mel Gatfield, who said it was "outrageous that, in Australia, in 2016, a worker is sacked for having a cup of coffee before his shift".
The FWC ordered the cleaner be reinstated to his old job with continuity of service and $9187.20 in compensation for lost remuneration.
In his judgment finding the termination was harsh, unjust and unreasonable, FWC Vice President Adam Hatcher quotes the modern philosopher Alain de Botton: "Office civilisation could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol."
He also notes the cleaner's conduct was "insignificant to the extent that it could not constitute a sound, defensible or well-founded reason for his dismissal".
"In my view, describing his conduct as theft verges on an abuse of the English language as used and understood by the ordinary person,"
"Equally the consumption of a glass of water drawn from a client's tap on a hot day would also constitute theft and the use of a client's toilets to answer an urgent call of nature without express prior permission would be a trespass."
The recent 7-Eleven scandal which saw many international students threatened with being reported to immigration authorities if they complained about underpayment illustrates that unfair treatment of international students is nothing new.
If you are an international student, please visit call the SDA office on 1300 SDA HELP (1300 732 4357).