Swearing at Lindsay Fox gets you sacked - for good

Disobedient driver sacked by Linfox, then tries to launch unfair dismissal claim against company

Swearing at Lindsay Fox gets you sacked - for good
Swearing at Lindsay Fox gets you sacked - for good
By Brad Gardner | October 19, 2009

A Linfox truck driver sacked for repeatedly ignoring management directions has lost his unfair dismissal claim and has stunned the court with his antics.

The New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission ruled Linfox had not acted unfairly or harshly in sacking Darren Shiels for repeatedly failing to abide by company policies.

Justice Peter Sams says Shiels "was the architect of his own destiny" because he was warned on multiple occasions to improve his poor work performance, which included sending expletive-filled e-mails to company boss Lindsay Fox.

The Commission was told Shiels was counselled on October 30 last year for failing to follow safety procedures, which included reversing a trailer against the flow of traffic, standing atop a loaded trailer and not wearing his seatbelt.

The driver was eventually terminated in June this year when he kept turning up to work well before his start time, despite agreeing with management that he would stop.

"It beggars belief that an employee with recent warnings about complying with reasonable directions and being closely managed would leave himself so vulnerable to criticism by continuing to ignore management directions," Sams ruled.

"I simply don’t understand it. It is even more inexplicable in circumstances where Mr Shiels actually agreed he would comply and then did the complete opposite, not once, but three times."

Shiels was told by management his turning up to work early left Linfox open to possible safety risks because there were more employees on site than necessary.

"In my opinion, this conduct constituted a willful disobedience of a lawful and reasonable direction," Sams says.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU), which represented Shiels, argued the final incident was not serious enough to justify Linfox’s actions.

However, Sams ruled there must be a point where a company concludes the employee’s continued failure to follow directions is enough to sack them.

"In my opinion, that point was reached in this case and, unfortunately, Mr Shiels was the architect of his own destiny," the Commission ruled.

Sams says the company acted reasonably, including investigating claims by Shiels of bullying and victimisation and also helping him to return to work after stress leave.

Furthermore, the Commission heard Shiels was dismissed with four weeks pay.

"For all the foregoing reasons, I am unable to conclude that Mr Shiels’ dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable…," Sams ruled.

The Commission heard Shiels sent two e-mails in April this year to Fox "containing unacceptable language and inappropriate comments" in which he criticised managers and accused them of being culpable for the death of a Linfox driver that same month.

According to Shiels, he was under stress from the death of his colleague and regretted sending the emails to Fox.

The driver was referred to a psychiatrist and given a medical assessment before returning to work.

But while accepting Shiels may have been distressed over the driver’s death, the Commission ruled his actions demonstrated a belief that everything was the fault of management.

Sams says Shiels regarded managers "with disdain" and "contempt" because he disregarded warning letters and memoranda issued to him.

"He variously described these missives as ‘rubbish’, ‘childish’ and ‘immature’ and he would just throw them in the garbage bin," Sams says.

The Commission also dismissed allegations Shiels was bullied or victimised by management.

Although Shiels claimed he was picked on in the form of constant supervision and being forced to do menial tasks such as sweeping, Sams says the driver’s real problem was he disliked being given directions or being told how to perform his duties.

"He wanted to drive his truck without any interference by management and be left alone," Sams says.

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