When a piccolo café latte might cost you your job

The Applicant, Ms Ajax, made an application to the Fair Work Commission (Commission) for an unfair dismissal remedy. Prior to being dismissed on 1 July 2020, she worked on a full-time basis for the Respondent, Credit Union Australia Ltd (CUA), as a Customer Service Specialist.

As part of her position, Ms Ajax was required to offer long term clients a tea or coffee from the local café, which would be paid for using the company’s account at the café. The use of the company’s account at the café was limited to business situations like the one described and was not for CUA staff to use for themselves.

Upon the Brisbane branch manager making enquiries into the account, it came to light that Ms Ajax and another employee were using the account for personal use. It was uncovered that roughly $100 of the charges on the account were Ms Ajax’s personal charges. After several meetings and letters being exchanged, Ms Ajax’s employment was terminated with immediate effect for serious misconduct, being theft. Ms Ajax and the other employee initially denied the conduct, but later attempted to provide an explanation.

Lessons

When determining whether misconduct is serious, it is important to consider the industry that the employee works in. Where a higher standard of integrity and honesty is required, what may seem “petty” in one industry may amount to serious misconduct in another.

Was the dismissal harsh, unjust or unreasonable?

Of interest to this discussion is the Commission’s evaluation of whether there was a valid reason for termination.

The Commission noted that Ms Ajax worked in an industry that requires a higher standard of integrity from its employees, providing that “[t]he financial services sector cannot afford to have an employee in its midst who might be untruthful over transactions of only around $100; there is opportunity for further misadventure if it is not promptly addressed”.

The Commission noted in its decision that where an industry requires honesty and integrity from its employees, conduct that is inconsistent with these values will strike at the heart of the employment contract and thus will be found to be serious misconduct warranting termination.

In concluding its decision, the Commission was satisfied that Ms Ajax was guilty of the conduct, rendering the dismissal just, and was not disproportionate or unreasonable considering the industry that she worked in.

You can read the full decision here.

A special thanks to Gretel Wathen for her assistance with this article.

If you would like to discuss this further and the implications for your business please contact our Employment + Workplace Relations Partner, Erin Lynch.

The contents of this publication do not constitute legal advice and are for general information purposes only. You should seek legal advice regarding your particular circumstances.