New Zealand-based dairy processor and exporter, Fonterra, sacked the men - Henry Taufua, a packer and robot operator, and Craig Flynn, a filling machine operator – after the discovery of two videos on YouTube.
The two 30-second clips depicted six employees – including Taufau and Flynn – performing their own version of the internet dance craze, the ‘Harlem Shake’ at the Takanini plant.
Three of the six employees investigated were dismissed.
At a New Zealand Employment Relations Authority hearing concerning the dismissal of Taufau and Flynn Fonterra argued that the video showed health and safety breaches. According to the company, these breaches constituted serious misconduct and justified their summary dismissal.
The Authority concluded yesterday, however, that there was no evidence of accident, injury, or damage to property, and ordered that Taufau and Flynn be reinstated on an interim basis pending a further hearing.
“Waiving his hand above his head like a lasso”
“Both applicants were dismissed after Fonterra discovered two videos uploaded to YouTube,” said the Employment Relations Authority decision. “The videos showed the applicants and other employees re-enacting their own version of the ‘Harlem Shake’ internet memo at the Fonterra plant in Takanini.”
In the first video, Flynn is seen hosing water into a steel tray running onto the floor near the feet of a dancing colleague, while four other colleagues stand around.
Taufua is then seen moving across the screen with a paper trolley, before the video cuts to a scene where the six employees – including Taufau and Flynn – are seen dancing around. Taufau is then seen standing on a moving pallet jack or paper trolley “waving his hand above his head like a lasso.”
During the second video, Flynn is seen dancing around a pallet with a shovel between his legs.
Taufau and Flynn – who sought reinstatement – argued that their behaviour did not justify dismissal.
“Interim reinstatement is appropriate”
Fonterra disagreed, claiming that the Taufau and Flynn breached its Code of Conduct and Health and Safety Policies.
“Fonterra alleges the two videos showed health and safety breaches which constituted serious misconduct capable of summary dismissal,” said the Employment Relations Authority decision document.
According to Fonterra, Taufau “rode a paper trolley or pallet jack in an unsafe manner endangering himself and others” and Flynn “put himself and others at risk of harm by organising the videos’, dancing with a shovel in between his legs, hosing water where another employee was dancing and splashing a pallet.”
The Employment Relations Authority determined, however, that “the overall justice of the case dictates interim reinstatement is appropriate.”
“Pursuant to an undertaking as to damages, an order for the interim reinstatement of applicant to their jobs with Fonterra until the hearing of the personal grievances,” it added.