What are the legal issues relating to the workplace in the article? What are the impacts the legal issues have on employees, employers and society?
This article reports that a poultry worker, who admitted to significant alcohol consumption, was terminated from her position after a loss of poultry stock attributed to her condition. An administrative tribunal ruled in her favor, noting there was no independent, qualitative assessment of her sobriety or lack thereof, for example, a breathalyzer test, and that there was no evidence to show that a zero-tolerance for alcohol consumption was part of the employer's policy. The poultry worker was awarded back wages and superannuation, which is a kind of income replacement ordinarily used for retirement purposes, although in this case, it appears to be used almost like unemployment compensation. I am assuming there is a means of appeal of this decision, to a higher court, but we do not have any information about that from the article.
There are clearly some societal implications in this case, assuming no appellate review and reversal. Subsequent to this ruling, employers will need to institute policies and procedures that eliminate the "loopholes" upon which the decision was based, such as policies of zero-tolerance for drugs and alcohol consumption, communicated to employees from time of hire, and having on hand some means of testing employees, if they want to be able to fire employees who are intoxicated or high. Theoretically, this will have a chilling effect upon alcohol and drug use in employees. If drugs and alcohol are a problem in the culture, it could also create a situation in which few people were employable. (This is something that could easily happen in the United States if marijuana were legalized everywhere.) There are also privacy implications, for example, the right of employees to dictate what employees do when not actually on the job and the breach of privacy involved in requiring breathalyzer or even blood tests. Should employers be able to have such draconian requirements on the job? There are those that argue this should be a governmental function, for example, as for the legal limits when driving. There are those that argue that this should be industry-dependent, such as in the airline or trucking industry, where an employee's intoxicated conditions puts others at serious risk. The death of 50 chickens does not seem to be a serious public safety issue, lamentable, but not tragic. Legislatures and agencies, both national and regional, are free to respond to such decisions with statutes and regulations that set forth higher standards for termination of employment. But in some countries, for example, the United States, most employment is considered "at will" employment, meaning that employers are usually free to terminate employees at will, with none of the due process that this tribunal seems to be insisting upon. Whether or employees will have the right to due process before being terminated remains to be seen. This case might create a precedent or might simply be an anomaly in the overall scheme of employment law in Australia.