By Nicholas Hartman
A pelican feeder, who worked only one hour a week, has had his job reinstated by the Fair Work Commission as they found his dismissal was without valid reason and procedural fairness.
Prior to having his employment terminated, the pelican feeder had been working at a fisherman’s co-op in southern Victoria for over 18 years.
Other than selling fresh fish and hot chips, the fisherman’s co-op also helped to feed pelicans and a colony of fairy penguins, as both were popular tourist attractions.
The employee was also a founding member of not-for-profit organisation set up to care for the welfare of pelicans in the local area in southern Victoria. The NFP was allowed, by the co-op, to help fund its activities by selling badges and collecting donations at the end of each feeding session.
However, when the Department of Environment got in touch with the co-op to ask if it was profiteering from wildlife, the co-op’s general manager decided to disallow the NFP from selling badges and collecting donations.
Then, the general manager asked the pelican feeder to provide details about the revenue raised from badge sales. The pelican feeder refused the general manager’s request, as he believed that the NFP’s revenue details were irrelevant to the co-op. The pelican feeder, however, wasn’t told the real reason why the general manager was requesting the information.
At a feeding session not long after, the employee was asked by a member of the public about the badges. Feeling that the general manager had set him up with a “stooge”, the employee confronted the general manager.
According to the Fair Work lodgings, the confrontation became heated. The employee swore at the general manager, telling him “What you did was very f***ing disrespectful”. The general manager retorted that it was “effing offensive that you would make such an accusation”.
The general manager then dismissed the employee via email, citing the pelican feeder’s refusal to provide the financial details requested, the “offensive” accusation made by the employee, and the employee’s swearing at the general manager.
The Fair Work Commission found that it was not satisfied that any of these reasons constituted a valid reason for dismissal.
Specifically, it held that the pelican feeder failing to provide the financial details wasn’t a big enough reason to dismiss an employee.
The FWC also found that dismissing the employee for swearing at the general manager was also harsh as the two were in the midst of a robust discussion, the language was used in frustration and not directed with any aggression or threat, and that the general manager’s use of the word “effing” wasn’t any different to use of the word “f***ing”.
The FWC therefore ordered the pelican feeder to be re-instated, noting his length of service and “dedicated service to the welfare of pelicans” – and also as in their view, the employee and manager could re-establish a trusted working relationship.