"Sick" manager sacked for playing poker, adrenalin claim rejected
Thursday, 03 May 2012 1:01pm
A RailCorp manager who won about $100,000 at Australian and overseas poker tournaments while on sick leave was rightly sacked, a tribunal has found in dismissing, as "problematic", his claim that the "adrenalin" of poker improved his psychological health.
The NSW Transport Appeals Board also censured the duty manager for setting an "extremely bad example" to other workers.
RailCorp ordered the manager to undergo an independent medical assessment after an investigation - which included a Google search - found he had competed in several interstate and international poker tournaments in late 2010 when he was supposed to be on sick leave.
His medical certificates for each absence referred to different conditions, including hip pain and a sore throat.
Before attending a pre-booked tournament in the Philippines, he obtained a medical certificate for stress, insomnia and depression.
The independent medical assessment found "no signs of psychiatric or sleep disorder", and in October 2011 the manager was dismissed for breaching RailCorp's Code of Conduct.
Absence rate warranted "close attention"
The worker appealed, and told the Transport Appeals Board that his decision to attend each of the tournaments was made at the last minute.
He said his medical conditions prevented him from working, but not from travelling.
He also said he applied for annual leave to attend the Filipino tournament, and suffered an anxiety attack that left him unable to work when his request was denied.
He took part in the competition because "poker provided a release" and "gave him an adrenaline rush and made him feel good about himself", he said.
Commissioner Elizabeth Bishop acknowledged this claim, but found it "problematic".
She said the Board was "amazed" the worker "considered that he was fit enough to fly and compete in what must be a highly charged and competitive environment" after being advised by his doctor - "based on what he told the doctor" - that he was unfit for duty.
Commissioner Bishop heard that a poker website showed the worker won $116,622 at ANZPT poker tournaments in 2010.
She also heard his work attendance rate was poor during that period.
"When [the manager's] overall absenteeism record for 2010 is looked at... his attendance was frankly abysmal and would have warranted some close attention from an employer in any employment situation," she said.
As a duty manager, he had set "an extremely bad example" to workers whose performance and attendance he was responsible for monitoring.
The Board found that on the balance of probabilities the worker "was fit for duty on the four occasions when he claimed sick leave and that he made a conscious decision not to attend for work but to attend poker tournaments".
"His intention in visiting the doctor was for the purpose of obtaining a medical certificate to enable him to... claim sick leave.
"It was more [than] mere coincidence or a spur of the moment decision".
Commissioner Bishop found the worker's actions were "deliberate and premeditated", and RailCorp's decision to dismiss him was "harsh" but "appropriate".