Australia: Radio Gaga! FWC orders reinstatement of worker who used a two-way radio to make offensive comments to colleagues

All employers need to be proactive in implementing the standards of workplace behaviour they want to achieve or risk being unable to defend an unfair dismissal claim.

There is a constant tension between the rights of employers to dismiss workers who engage in misconduct and the protection of employees from unfair dismissal. The balancing act can be confusing for all in the workplace. This was on show in a recent decision of the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

In Goodall v Mt Arthur Coal Pty Ltd [2016] FWC 4129, the applicant was a machine operator at a coal mine and had what was described as "an exemplary employment record throughout his almost five-year period of employment." He was dismissed from his employment when he used the two-way radio system for nearly two hours of a 12.5 hour night shift and engaged in inappropriate conversation with his fellow machine operators. The content of the conversations were not contentious and consisted of offensive, sexist and religiously vilifying comments, according to the FWC.

In relation to both the offensive nature of the conversations and the excessive use of the two-way radio, the FWC found that the employer had a valid reason to dismiss the applicant and that it had met its procedural fairness obligations. However, Commissioner Saunders found the dismissal to be harsh and ordered the applicant's reinstatement.

In coming to this decision, Commissioner Saunders noted that generally where a valid reason for termination exists, it may be harsh, unjust or unreasonable in circumstances where:

  • the actions of an employee relied upon by the employer for termination are considered in isolation from the context of the employee's disciplinary history;
  • the broader context of the workplace is ignored; and
  • the personal or private circumstances of the employee.

The standards you accept...

The FWC made a number of references to policies implemented by the employer in relation to employee behaviour and discipline. Commissioner Saunders found that the applicant had breached a number of the employer's policies in making his comments, however the use of profanities and robust language were common at the applicant's workplace in and, more broadly, in the industry. This, combination of factors placed the conduct at the lower end of the scale of seriousness and did not justify dismissal.

Targeted attack

While Commissioner Saunders agreed that the applicant's vilifying comments were extremely offensive and inappropriate, he categorised the comments as being in the mid-range on a scale of seriousness. This was because the comments were not directed at any particular employee or group of employees. Had the applicant done so, Commissioner Saunders suggested that this would have resulted in the termination not being harsh, unjust or unreasonable. However, the fact that applicant knew of no one being of the particular religion he criticised as being employed at his workplace was in his favour.

Practise what you preach

During the proceeding, it was further found that the use of the two-way radio in the way that the applicant was doing so was not expressly authorised by the employer. Despite this, evidence was produced to show that it was common practice for the specific channel the applicant was broadcasting on to be used as a de-facto "chat channel" for workers to stay alert during late night work. Commissioner Saunders found that these contextual matters meant that the applicant's more casual use of the radio could not be deemed serious misconduct when the employer had allowed its use in this manner previously without directing its employers to cease doing so.

Lessons learned

What this decision highlights is the importance of employers being proactive in dealing with conduct in the workplace that is not in line with the workplace's values and policies. This case involves the use of a two-way radio, however other mediums available in the workplace, such as intranet services, instant messaging, emails, social media outlets and notice board facilities pose similar risks. If an employer is considering dismissing an employee for questionable conduct, they should consider:

  • the employee's history. It will be more likely that the dismissal will be upheld if there is evidence of past disciplinary issues relevant to the conduct being relied on;
  • how vigorously the employer has implemented its policies in the past. If the policies have historically been rarely enforced and conduct has gone undisciplined it will be more difficult to show that the dismissal was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable. Training including the regularity of refresher training will also be considered; and
  • whether certain conduct has been indirectly accepted. Similarly to policy implementation, any behaviour that an employer believes is below the standards they expect from their employees should be identified and addressed as soon as possible to defend.

You might also be interested in...

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.