The Short End of the Plank?

August 12th, 2015

The recent craze of planking has created a few headaches for employers as well as taking social networking sites by storm.

Planking is an activity that gained popularity at the beginning of this year,with ‘plankers’ lying rigidly face down in unusual locations and often posting photos of their exploits on social networking sites such as Facebook. Many see planking as a harmless form of amusement including New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, who was portrayed vertically planking next to his horizontally planking son in a photo posted on Facebook earlier this year.

However, several serious planking accidents in Australia have caused employers to take a hard line on incidents of planking that pose a risk to safety in the workplace. A 20 year old man died after falling from a seventh story balcony while planking in Brisbane. In another accident, a 48 year old Sydney woman was hospitalised when a demonstration of planking at a dinner went awry.

Due to the perceived risks of this new fad, Australian employers have not treated planking as a laughing matter. At the beginning of this month two store workers were fined by a Brisbane Court for planking on forklifts and the roof of a factory. In May, an Australian Woolworths dismissed eight workers for planking on a variety of equipment including shopping trolleys, shelving units and mincing machines.

Some have questioned whether dismissing employees for planking could give rise to a claim for unjustifiable dismissal. While planking does raise health and safety concerns, if the planking takes place outside  of the workplace during the workers own time, it may be more difficult to prove a connection between the workers conduct and their place of employment. For this reason, employers should be cautious about disciplining an employee solely on the basis of social networking photos with no obvious link to the workplace.

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