Zookeeper’s failure to lock enclosures ground for dismissal
The Public Service Appeal Board has dismissed the appeal of a Zookeeper against her dismissal, finding that the appellant’s failure to ensure that enclosures were securely locked would cause her employer to lose confidence in her ability to conduct her role without making errors.
The appellant was employed as a Zookeeper by the Director General, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions at Perth Zoo. The appellant was dismissed from her role, following an incident where she failed to secure the gate padlock to the sun bear exhibit.
The appellant argued that the dismissal was unfair taking into account her length of service, her contrition and acceptance of responsibility, and the extenuating circumstances of the appellant suffering work-related stress, anxiety and burn out. The appellant contended that the termination of her employment was a disproportionate penalty to the conduct, and that the mistakes concerning securing enclosures over a period of twenty-two years do not constitute a pattern of behaviour. The appellant sought to return to her position with adjustments to her work arrangements.
The respondent contended that the appellant had made similar errors, and referred to previous instances where the appellant had failed to secure enclosure gates, resulting in the escape of a sun bear and an otter pup. The respondent gave evidence that securing of enclosures is a fundamental element of the role and must be performed at a consistently high standard. The respondent noted that at that time, the appellant was advised that further mistakes may result in disciplinary action, including dismissal.
In considering the facts, the Board acknowledged the unusual environment of Perth Zoo. The Board found that the securing of enclosures was a fundamental element of the role of a Zookeeper, and that the repeated errors by the appellant made it difficult for the Board to be confident that the appellant could conduct her role.
The Board considered that, where the appellant first raised concerns for her workload, that the respondent should have conducted a more thorough assessment and evaluation of the situation. The Board noted, however, that it was unclear how these workload concerns impacted the appellant on the day of the incident that led to her dismissal.
The Board held that it was not within the power of the Board to make adjustments to the working arrangements that the appellant requested, and dismissed the appeal.
The decision can be read here.