BHP boss Mike Henry has slammed the Fair Work Commission after it found the company was wrong to sack a worker who told an offensive “joke” at work.
The incident took place back in November 2018 when a male worker was travelling in a vehicle with three colleagues at Queensland’s Peak Downs Mine.
During the trip, one of the female workers complained of a headache, and the male replied by saying: “If my old girl has a headache, I crush up Panadol and rub it on my old fella and tell her she can have it orally or anally.”
One of the women complained to management, describing the man’s words as a “totally sick” and “disgusting, rude, derogatory comment”.
BHP investigated the incident and ultimately sacked the worker, who then alleged he had been unfairly dismissed.
During the investigation, the sacked worker claimed he had made the joke in response to “sexualised talk” from his female colleagues, which was later found to be false.
But while Commissioner Jennifer Hunt upheld the dismissal, she found the reasons for the sacking were not valid and that the man had not been given a “a fair go all around”.
In a Fair Work Commission ruling seen by news.com.au, Commissioner Hunt argued it “would be sad to completely lose Australian larrikinism, including in the workplace”.
She said while the joke was “indeed crude”, “particularly vulgar and graphic” and “may easily offend others”, it would not “offend everybody” and there were “many people who would find the joke amusing, even if those persons were to admit that it ‘crossed the line’ and might be considered too much for a joke within the workplace”.
And she said while modern workplaces had changed for the better, with “far less slaps on the bottom, suggestive leering, unsafe initiations on apprentices and other new workers and the removal of provocative posters” there was still “the right to have a sense of humour” in most workplaces.
“A workplace devoid of some humour and the occasional joke is, I consider, to be a very sad, dull and oppressive workplace,” Commissioner Hunt said.
“For many employees spending approximately 38 hours per week at work, lighthearted bantering and the occasional joke will make their workplace, and for those within it, a better, more productive and fulfilling workplace.
“I do not consider, in most circumstances, that an employee should lose their job on account of the telling of a single joke.”
It was found the worker did not show remorse for his actions, later repeated the joke in front of male workers who were investigating the situation, and falsely accused the female workers of discussing “rooting”, which he argued excused his comment.
However, she ultimately dismissed the sacked worker’s application and ruled the dismissal “was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable” and “was not unfair”.
But now, BHP chief executive Mike Henry has slammed the Fair Work Commission ruling that the company was wrong to sack the worker over the joke.
He told The Australian BHP remained “totally resolute in stopping sexual harassment in our business”.
“The commission said there should be some tolerance in modern workplaces to joke-telling and to some degree, larrikinism,” he told the publication. “We are of a different view.
“This behaviour is detrimental to culture, performance and the mental wellbeing of our broader workforce.”