Unfairly dismissed for running over galah

weird reasons why people were fired unfairly

Pets do not usually feature prominently in unfair dismissal cases brought before the Fair Work Commission. But in this article, we provide two recent cases where a beloved animal was the central reason why the employee got the sack. You will read about a young worker who accidentally ran over his boss’s pet galah, and a prison officer who was fired after sticking up for his dog. Plus, we also detail the case of a Chinese teacher who was sacked after her pet cat made an appearance in her online class.

Worker fired for squashing boss’s pet galah wins over $8K

In the unfair dismissal case Blake O’Keeffe v The Trustee For Dunshea Family Trust [2022], a young casual worker was terminated for reversing onto his boss’ favourite bird. Blake O’Keeffe had for a number of years been working as a casual on the property of Gregg Dunshea in Bundaberg, Queensland. He had started working there while at school and was described by Mr Dunshea as “part of the family.” But on 6 August 2021, this familial relationship was shattered when Mr O’Keeffe ran over his boss’s beloved galah, Crackers.

Mr O’Keeffe was just about to clock off from work. All he had to do before then was move a truck. Just before he was about to reverse the truck, Mr O’Keeffe saw Crackers sitting on the ground behind the truck. He grabbed a nearby mop and attempted to shoo the bird away, but to no avail. He then tried the same with a broom, which caused Crackers to flee under a nearby truck. Mr O’Keeffe stuck the broom under the truck, attempting to coax the bird out, but it remained where it was.

Feeling Crackers was safe and happy to remain under the other truck, Mr O’Keeffe got back into the truck. He placed it in reverse, having checked the rear-view mirrors and the reversing camera. He began driving backwards, but unbeknownst to Mr O’Keeffe, Crackers had come out from hiding and sat directly in the path of the reversing truck.

“It’s okay don’t worry about it”

Having reversed the truck, Mr O’Keeffe got out and noticed something on the ground. Moving closer, he realised it was Crackers, who appeared to still be “fully inflated” but not moving. Mr O’Keeffe quickly told Mr Dunshea, who picked up Crackers. Seeing the bird in its lifeless state, it was then that Mr O’Keeffe realised that he had run over it. He did not realise this sooner as he assumed the bird would have been flat if he had run over it.

Shocked, Mr O’Keeffe apologised to Mr Dunshea, who replied “It’s okay don’t worry about it” before walking away holding Crackers. Mr O’Keeffe then went home and informed his parents about the incident.

“You’re the worst kind of person”

On the Monday after, Mr Dunshea watched the CCTV video of the incident. He realised that Mr O’Keeffe knew that Crackers was in the vicinity of the truck before reversing it. When the young worker turned up for work, an incensed Mr Dunshea asked why he had not checked behind the truck. Mr O’Keeffe said that he had, and then his boss told him:

“You’ve turned into someone I despise, you’re the worst kind of person, a person who doesn’t think about how their actions will affect other people.”

He then dismissed Mr O’Keeffe on the spot, telling him that the reason was negligence. Mr Dunshea subsequently wrote a dismissal letter and handed it to him. The young worker explained to his boss that he would never harm an animal on purpose and that he had pets of his own. While still upset, his boss recognised that he did not kill Crackers on purpose. Mr O’Keeffe returned his work keys and left the property. Soon after, the young worker filed an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission.

“It was an acci­dent”: Fair Work Commission delivers verdict

Mr Dunshea argued to the Fair Work Commission that he fired the young worker for “neg­li­gent con­duct and lack of care.” However, this was not found to be a valid reason for dismissal. The Fair Work Commission stated that the death of Crackers was “no doubt shocking and upsetting” for both men. However, it found that it was an “accident” and that Mr O’Keeffe’s “con­duct was not mali­cious or delib­er­ate.” His attempts to ensure the safety of the bird prior to reversing the truck were also acknowledged.

“Giv­en Crack­ers’ small size and posi­tion on the ground, it is unfor­tu­nate but unsur­pris­ing that he was not picked up in [Mr O’Keeffe’s] mir­ror checks or by the revers­ing camera,” the Fair Work Commission said.

“May have war­rant­ed a writ­ten warn­ing, but no more.”

At Mr O’Keeffe’s unfair dismissal hearing, Mr Dunshea argued that he had previously given his employee a very specific directive. He had told Mr O’Keeffe not to operate a vehicle when Crackers “was in Mr O’Keeffe’s vicinity on the ground.” But the young worker disagreed that he was ever told this. He said that Mr Dunshea was far more informal in his directives and would only ever say “Watch out for Crack­ers.”  

The Fair Work Commission agreed with Mr O’Keeffe that his boss had never given him a formal direction regarding Cracker’s safety. It was however accepted that they had an understanding that the young worker would take reasonable care. Given that Cracker’s death was an accident, it was deemed that Mr O’Keefe’s actions “may have war­rant­ed a writ­ten warn­ing, but no more.”

Worker wins $8K unfair dismissal payout

The Fair Work Commission accepted that Mr O’Keefe had been informed of the reason for his termination. However, it was found that Mr Dunshea had not provided him a reasonable chance to respond. Based on all of its findings, the commission ruled that Mr O’Keefe had been unfairly sacked.

Given the breakdown in the relationship between Mr Dunshea and Mr O’Keefe, the young worker’s reinstatement was not deemed appropriate. Therefore, the Fair Work Commission ordered Mr Dunshea to pay him $8,287.78.

dog fight triggers unfair dismissal

Worker dismissed after ‘fighting for his dog’

In the unfair dismissal case Dylan Thomas v Serco Australia Pty Limited [2023], a prison officer was sacked after sticking up for his dog. Dylan Thomas worked for facilities management company Serco Australia as a Correctional Case Officer – Dog Handler. His primary place of work was at the Clarence Correctional Centre near Grafton in New South Wales. The facility held over 1,700 inmates, both male and female.

While on his day off on 21 February 2022, Mr Thomas heard that General Purpose Dog Tauvey, which he had been training at the centre, had been injured and was bleeding from its tail. He picked up Tauvey from the centre and took him to the vet, where he received treatment and had around four centimeters cut from his tail.

Distraught by the injury, Mr Thomas wanted to get to the bottom of how it happened and enquired with Serco about any information they could provide. He also asked his employer if they could investigate the incident. He asked to view the CCTV footage of the incident, but was denied.

Mr Thomas’ attitude to work changes for the worse

Mr Thomas was not happy with Serco’s efforts with respect to investigating the incident. His dissatisfaction with his employer soon bled through into his general workplace behaviour. Mr Thomas refused to comply with lawful and reasonable directives and even secretly recorded a meeting with management.

But the incident that would lead to his dismissal took place on 8 March 2022. That was when Mr Thomas and another correctional officer had to transfer an inmate to Grafton Hospital. Serco would later have concerns about Mr Thomas’ conduct while transferring the inmate, and so it launched an investigation.

Investigation leads to dismissal

This uncovered that he had told the other correctional officer that he had videos and photos to ruin Serco and the dog squad and “crumble the empire.” Mr Thomas also said that he was “done with the dog squad” and that he would like to “see the dog squad burn.” When Serco investigated these statements, Mr Thomas failed to cooperate. He was then sent a letter detailing a list of allegations. On 15 September 2022, Serco summarily dismissed Mr Thomas for serious misconduct.

Mr Thomas argues his case to Fair Work Commission

Mr Thomas subsequently made an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission. He argued that he was fired because he had requested to view the CCTV footage of the injury to his dog. Mr Thomas also claimed that there had been a “systemic cover up” by Serco management.

Fair Work Commission provides ruling

At his unfair dismissal hearing, Mr Thomas capped off his arguments by saying that “This is a case about one man fighting for his dog.” The Fair Work Commission noted that his care for Tauvey and the other dogs he was responsible for “is not in dispute.” And that Mr Thomas’ “feelings” led him to strongly disagree with the way Serco conducted the investigation into Tauvey’s injury. It was noted that his “obsessive” focus on the issue led to the events that ended with his sacking.

Considering if Serco had a valid reason to fire Mr Thomas, the Fair Work Commission said that his conduct was “repugnant to the employment relationship.” It was found that Mr Thomas had showed that he had “no trust and confidence in Serco.” And that he “could not be trusted” to behave appropriately when he disagreed with the company’s decisions.

Ultimately, the Fair Work Commission found that Mr Thomas’s conduct warranted his instant sacking, and therefore his unfair dismissal claim was rejected.

cat appearing online triggers unfair dismissal
A cat sits on a desk, There is a cat in the office, This company has a cat, and that cat is loved by every employee, A tricolor kitten is being photographed sitting on a table in an office.

Chinese teacher fired after cat appears in online class

In 2022, a Chinese unfair dismissal case involving a teacher’s cat made international headlines. The teacher, who was simply known as Luo, was fired in June 2022. The reason? While giving a virtual class, her pet cat “jumped into the camera’s view five times,” according to her employer, an education tech company. In addition to her cat’s appearance, the company also cited the fact that Luo had taken part in “non-teaching activities” while delivering the class.

Feeling that she had been unfairly sacked, Luo challenged her employer’s decision via a Chinese employment tribunal. It ruled that she had been unfairly dismissed and ordered her employer to pay her compensation. But the company refused to pay and took the case to court.

Chinese court awards teacher over $9K

The employer’s action backfired, however. The Guangzhou Tianhe People’s Court took issue with the employer’s expectations around employee conduct when working remotely. Particularly given that at the time remote work was preferred while COVID-19 was at its height. The court stated that the employer’s rules “should not only comply with the laws,” but should also be “fair and reasonable.”

“If employers require their staff to work from home, they should not have the same expectations as if they were working in an office,” the court said.

Upholding her unfair dismissal, the court ordered the employer to pay Luo 40,000 yuan, which equates to around AU$9,500.

Have you been unfairly dismissed?

Get in contact with A Whole New Approach today. Our team has over 30 years’ experience helping Australian workers take action via the Fair Work Commission. If you have experienced unfair dismissal, discrimination, bullying or any other workplace rights violation, we can help you make a claim. But act fast, as you have just 21 days from the day of your dismissal to lodge a claim.

We have helped over 16,000 Australian workers in every state and territory to make Fair Work Commission claims. And we offer a no win, no fee service with a free and confidential initial consultation.

Contact us today on 1300 766 700 to discuss your situation and how we can help.