Stevedoring company DP World's decision to sack a worker for drinking alcohol on the job was inconsistent with its decision to give another employee, who was the son of a high-ranking Maritime Union of Australia official, a second chance.
A Fair Work Commission decision released on Monday found DP World was justified in sacking a Sydney worker with a previously unblemished record stretching 23 years but its decision to give the son of a union official a second chance demonstrated an "it's not what you know, but who you know" approach to its alcohol policy.
The Fair Work Commission found that a stevedore was fairly sacked after he drank at least four tins of Wild Turkey bourbon in half an hour before he considered taking his own life at work on his birthday.
However, the Commission found DP World "have not implemented a fair and transparent system of enforcing" its drug and alcohol policy.
The Commission heard a senior union official's son had been given a second chance after he recorded a positive alcohol test.
The official's son was not sacked for a first time breach of the company's drug and alcohol policy. A witness for DP World conceded "not all staff are treated equally as a result of discretion being afforded to some and not others".
The Commission heard the worker who was immediately sacked suffered from depression and was struggling to deal with a range of personal issues including the death of his father in law, his wife's cancer and his second child's still birth.
After arriving for his night shift on April 7, the worker "who is not usually a drinker", consumed at least four cans of Wild Turkey and told fellow workers he intended to kill himself.
The worker was talked out of that and returned to work.
He was then randomly tested and stood down on pay after he recorded a blood alcohol level of 0.118 per cent.
At first, the worker said he had gone to lunch with friends to celebrate his birthday and that someone had spiked his drink. But he later wrote a letter outlining "the truth of the situation" including his low mood and personal circumstances.
He pleaded for his employer to "find in your heart and soul to forgive me for my actions and reconsider reinstating me within the company".
While mental illness might have mitigated the Fair Work Commission's findings, Commissioner Leigh Johns said the worker had provided no medical evidence of a diagnosis with a psychiatric condition. His dismissal was not found to be harsh or unfair.
However, the Commissioner criticised systematic failures in the company's reporting of mental health risks "up the line". It also failed to report the apparent suicide threat to Workcover and its workplace insurer.
The worker had also been allowed to drive himself home after he rejected an offer of a Cabcharge voucher.
"The employer further breached their duty of care and responsibilities as an employer in not automatically notifying Workcover of the suicide attempt," Commissioner Johns said.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have sought comment from DP World.
Crisis support can be found at Lifeline: (13 11 14 and lifeline.org.au), the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467 and suicidecallbackservice.org.au) and beyondblue (1300 22 4636 and beyondblue.org.au)
Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter. Her reports on inequity in schools funding led to the Gonski reforms and won her national awards. Her coverage of health exposed unnecessary patient deaths at Campbelltown Hospital and led to judicial and parliamentary inquiries. At The Times of London, she exposed flaws in international medical trials.