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Home | Blog | Rio Tinto worker reinstated following flawed HR investigation

Tim Kucera, our highly experienced employment lawyer successfully fights to have a sacked Rio Tinto employee’s job reinstated following a flawed HR investigation.

Mechanic didn’t deliberately or repeatedly break rules

A Rio Tinto employee has been reinstated after the FWC highlighted starkly different recommendations in investigations conducted by its HR and safety experts.

In ordering the Pilbara mine mechanic’s reinstatement, Deputy President Melanie Binet observed that due weight needed to be attached to the worker’s admission of safety breaches and cooperation with Rio Tinto’s safety investigation.

“Given the increasing autonomy of workers, it is critical to safety systems that employees are not discouraged from admitting safety failures and that employees willingly and fully participate in safety investigations,” said the deputy president.

“The importance of this was recognised in the outcome of the safety Investigation, which recommended retraining rather than dismissal.”

By way of contrast, the HR investigation had resulted in an “inaccurate understanding” of the incidents’ severity through its failure to include the mechanic in a photographed re-enactment, said Deputy President Binet.

Deputy President Binet further noted that the HR advisor in charge of the investigation, the maintenance manager and the mechanic’s superintendent “all conceded that other employees had committed isolation breaches, including some more severe, and retained their employment”.

“It would appear therefore that a breach of isolation procedures of itself is not consistently treated by Rio Tinto as a valid reason for dismissal.”

The deputy president also queried why “a large, well-resourced employer with access to highly-skilled human resource and employment law advice “did not grant [the mechanic] a “modest” extension of time to seek legal advice during the Christmas and New Year period.

“This should have ensured that [the mechanic] was fully afforded procedural fairness.

“In these circumstances, I am not satisfied that Rio Tinto give [the mechanic] a proper opportunity to respond to the reasons for dismissal as required by section 387(c) of the FW Act.”

You can read more on this case here.

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