Industrial court

EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to the nature of this story we've changed the names of the parties involved. We're calling them John and Jane.

The industrial court upheld a decision by a major commercial bank to dismiss an employee who accessed and disseminated another employee's personal information to members of his church.

It's a case that reflects on exactly much levity there is in a person's right to freedom of religion. 

His Honour Mr. Herbert Soverall presided over the case and gave his ruling on July 28th. The documents were just made public.

In August 2012 (according to a statement written by John to his union) while working the night shift, he and two other employees were going through the bank's back up hard drive in search of cheque register form.

Within the drives, John said he stumbled upon sexually explicit material of a female colleague engaging in sexual acts with a man, who was not her husband.

In the statement John said he is "an elder in the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses." He said in his religion, such acts are prohibited, and "would bring reproach on the name of our Holy God Jehovah and would additionally disrupt the free flow of the Holy Spirit in the Christian congregation."

John approached Jane on more than one occasion telling her what he knew. He implored her to come clean to the elders in the church. 

He wanted to "remind her of the vows that she made upon her baptism and assist her in restoring her relationship with her God Jehovah."

By the third attempt Jane had had enough, and told him to "stay out [her] business." She reported  John to her supervisor, adding she'd even report him to the police if the information he had became public.

Nevertheless he persisted. John told the elders of the congregation what he had seen on the hard drive that night in his "desire to protect the cleanness of Christian congregations. "

This led three elders of the church to visit the woman's home to confront her on her day off. She wasn't home at the time.

In December 2012 the bank fired John  for "gross misconduct." 

He had disclosed confidential information to a third party, accessed information about a staff member without authorisation, and copied the information onto an external storage device.

In the termination letter the bank said that he had "violated or infringed on the rights of the staff member" which was in breach of the bank's policies. They had lost confidence in him, and believed he'd brought the bank into disrepute. 

The Bankers Insurance General Workers Union never sought to justify John's sense of righteousness in their defense. Instead they argued his disciplinary hearings were not properly conducted. The court ruled that after he'd submitted a written confession, the bank wasn't left with many options, and any attempt to postpone the hearings, as he'd tried,  was "wasting time and delaying the process." 

In the written judgment the court ruled it wasn't appropriate to apply the principles of one's religion.

"There is a time and place for everything under the sun," the judgment read.  "The work place simply cannot be treated as one's church where religion can be observed and practiced with minimum control."

The court argued that without control, the workplace could become "devoid of peace, stability and tranquility." Each religion would want to be paramount but no one could be.

The judgment further reads, "by his demeanor and his testimony, the worker was adamant that he was right to disclose the information to the elder of his church. His defense was therefore based on his religious persuasions. That defense could not  be accepted in our industrial relations systems as any worker could put forward such defense in response to an act of misconduct and expect to be exonerated." 

The union hasn't appealed the decision.

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