A worker has lost his unfair dismissal claim after being sacked for sexually assaulting a colleague during a work Christmas event.
The man argued that the alleged incident was not work-related because it happened in a private room at a hotel.
However, the Workplace Relations Commission rejected that argument.
Industrial advocates say the case is a timely reminder that workplace rules apply during work functions, even those held off-site.
Worker sacked over Christmas party assault
The man worked for an Irish-based beverage company.
The incident leading to his dismissal happened after a work Christmas party in 2018.
The man allegedly sexually assaulted a female co-worker in a hotel room following the event.
The company suspended the worker and employed an external investigator to carry out an investigation.
The investigator subsequently concluded the man had sexually assaulted his colleague, on the balance of probabilities.
As a result, the company sacked him for gross misconduct in May 2019.
Unfair dismissal claim
The man subsequently filed a claim for unfair dismissal in the Workplace Relations Commission.
He argued the investigation failed to take into account the possibility the encounter had been consensual.
He also claimed the investigator failed to interview witnesses who could have discredited the woman’s testimony.
Finally, the man argued the dismissal was unfair because the alleged incident took place in a private hotel room and not in the workplace.
“SEXUAL HARASSMENT CAN HAPPEN OUTSIDE THE WORKPLACE”
Dismissal took place within employment
However, adjudication officer Emile Daly dismissed the claim, describing the investigator’s findings as “well-founded”.
“I do not accept that the sanction of dismissal was disproportionate to the findings of the investigator.
“A sexual assault is a serious finding and one that is capable of being considered as an act of gross misconduct.”
Daly also found the alleged assault took place within the employment of the dismissed man, despite happening off-site.
She noted that the man’s employer organised the Christmas party, including choosing the venue.
“The parties would not have been at the venue but for the Christmas party.”
Workplace rules and policies still apply
Australian industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from Dismissals ‘R’ Us says workplace rules still apply at work Christmas parties.
“Workplace rules and policies apply at any work-related event – so that means functions, interstate conferences and Christmas parties,” he said.
“Workers often make the mistake of having too many drinks at work events – and then end up saying or doing things they later regret.”
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