January 23, 2024

Importance in Policy Wording: Lessons from Goodsell v Sydney Trains

Explore the Goodsell case and discover essential lessons for employers. From policy clarity to procedural fairness, stay informed to avoid unfair dismissal pitfalls.

In the case of Goodsell v Sydney Trains, the applicant claimed unfair dismissal by the respondent. The applicant was dismissed after testing positive for a cocaine metabolite, which violated the employer's Drug and Alcohol policy and Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct allowed for disciplinary action, including dismissal, for a positive drug test. The applicant argued that he was not impaired by cocaine and believed it would have left his system before returning to work. Expert witnesses testified about the pharmacological effects of the cocaine metabolite (benzoylecgonine) and the testing procedure used by the respondent.

The respondent argued that the applicant did not understand the safety aspect of his role, and it was their practice to dismiss employees with positive drug tests. The applicant contended that the positive test did not make him a safety risk. He cited previous cases involving different drugs (cannabis) and argued that he had a reasonable and honest belief that enough time had passed since his drug use.

The Commission considered previous cases, including Sydney Trains v Hilder, Harbour City Ferries v Toms, and Sharp v BCS Infrastructure. It noted that in these cases, dismissals were upheld due to policy breaches. However, the Deputy President found that the respondent's approach was procedurally unfair because the applicant's responses were not fairly considered. The respondent had not adequately explained that their drug and alcohol policy tested for use rather than impairment, and they did not explore alternative disciplinary options. Therefore, the dismissal was deemed harsh and unreasonable, leading to a reinstatement order for the applicant with compensation reduced by 20 percent due to the failed drug test.

Employers can draw several important lessons from the Goodsell v Sydney Trains case:

  1. Clarity in Policy Communication: It's crucial for employers to clearly communicate their workplace policies, especially those related to drugs and alcohol, to their employees. In this case, the employer's failure to adequately explain its drug and alcohol policy, including the fact that it tested for drug use rather than impairment, worked against them. Employers should ensure that policies are easily understood by all employees.
  2. Consideration of Mitigating Factors: When taking disciplinary action, employers should consider all relevant mitigating factors, especially in cases involving policy violations. Failing to consider mitigating factors can make the disciplinary process unfair, as highlighted in this case. Employers should evaluate each situation individually and take into account factors such as the employee's history, remorse and the nature of the violation.
  3. Exploring Alternative Disciplinary Actions: Employers should not be quick to resort to dismissal as the only disciplinary option. Exploring alternative disciplinary actions, such as counseling, training, or probation, may be more appropriate in some cases. Employers should consider these options before making a final decision.
  4. Procedural Fairness: Ensuring a fair and transparent disciplinary process is essential. Employers must give employees an opportunity to respond to allegations, and their responses should be fairly considered. Procedural fairness includes providing clear explanations of policy violations and potential consequences.
  5. Documentation: Employers should maintain thorough documentation of the entire disciplinary process, from policy communication to any investigations and meetings with the employee. Clear records can be essential in defending against claims of unfair dismissal.

For help with your Drug & Alcohol policy for your organisation, contact HR Dynamics today contact us today at hello@hrdynamics.com.au or 1800 877 747

The information available on this website is intended to be a general information resource regarding matters covered and it is not tailored to individual specific circumstances or intended as a substitute for legal advice. Although we make strong efforts to make sure our information is accurate, HR Dynamics cannot guarantee that all the information on this website is always correct, complete, or up-to-date. HR Dynamics recommendations and any information obtained on this website do not constitute legal advice.

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