A cleaner who was sacked because he had a cup of coffee on the job has won an unfair dismissal case in the Fair Work Commission.
In deciding the dismissal was unfair, Fair Work Commission vice president Adam Hatcher quoted the modern philosopher Alain de Botton: "Office civilisation could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol."
The part-time cleaner sought the "take-off" of a cup of coffee in a Sydney office block shortly before his evening shift started.
"However, far from uplifting him, that cup of coffee was the direct cause of his rapid descent into summary dismissal two days later," Mr Hatcher said.
The cleaner's employer, Glad Group Pty Ltd, characterised the coffee drinking as theft. It said the act was "serious misconduct warranting summary dismissal" and had caused a serious risk to its business reputation and profitability.
In awarding the cleaner $9187.20 in damages and the right to get his old job back, Mr Hatcher concluded the dismissal was "unjust and unreasonable".
He said the cleaner's conduct was "insignificant to the extent that it could not constitute a sound, defensible or well-founded reason for his dismissal".
"In my view, describing his conduct as theft verges on an abuse of the English language as used and understood by the ordinary person," he said.
"Equally the consumption of a glass of water drawn from a client's tap on a hot day would also constitute theft and the use of a client's toilets to answer an urgent call of nature without express prior permission would be a trespass."
The cleaner, an international student on a visa that restricted him from working more than 20 hours a week, recently completed a Masters degree in IT and was working as a part-time cleaner in an office block at 130 Pitt Street in Sydney's CBD.
Mr Hatcher accepted the cleaner's evidence that he had a good rapport with tenants in the office block who would often chat to him.
The cleaner said staff who worked for CMC Markets told him he was welcome to a cup of coffee when he was cleaning.
On January 12, he arrived 45 minutes early for his shift and had a cup of coffee with another cleaner while waiting for their 6.30pm starting time.
When the cleaners walked to the office lifts with their coffee cups, the CMC office and facilities manager asked them where the coffee was from.
She said: "You are not allowed to make coffee." To which the cleaner replied: "We are sorry, we did not intentionally want to upset you. We did not know we were not allowed to."
When she replied OK, the cleaner assumed the apology had been accepted.
But the manager reported the incident and requested the cleaners be removed.
The manager escalated her complaint to Glad, which sacked the cleaners for serious misconduct, despite their explanations and apologies for any misunderstanding.
The manager who complained about the coffee consumption also wrote to the manager of Investa, which had contracted Glad's cleaning services, saying she did not begrudge anyone a cup of coffee "but not without my knowledge".
"I find it totally inappropriate for cleaning staff to be in our tenancies for any purpose than to provide contracted cleaning services," she said.
Mel Gatfield, secretary of United Voice NSW, the union that represented the cleaner in the Fair Work Commission, said it was "outrageous that, in Australia, in 2016, a worker is sacked for having a cup of coffee before his shift".
"His case is indicative of the exploitation and poor treatment many cleaners experience in Australia," she said. (1/6/2016 Sydney Morning Herald)