Can you fire someone for intending to steal?

by Janie Smith28 Jul 2014
Catching an employee intending to steal  company property is enough for employers to take disciplinary action, even if nothing has been stolen yet, according to a Fair Work Commission decision.

In a recent case, the Commission rejected a mining worker’s unfair dismissal claim after he was caught preparing to steal cables owned by Appin West Coal Mine.

According to an Employment Law Matters article by Lander & Rogers senior associate Paul McKaysmith and lawyer Shane Wescott, the employee was working as a ventilation operator at the mine, which is operated by Endeavour Coal.

He was accused of preparing to steal cables used by the company which contain a large amount of copper wiring, which can be stripped and sold for a high price.

Supervisors noticed the worker had moved the cables to a different location and that his personal vehicle, a Landcruiser with a one tonne tray, had “stringers” in the tray which could be used as a resting place for the pallets used to carry the cables.

The company claimed that the worker had driven his vehicle on to the site through a gap at the mine’s boom gates, which breached its transport management plan, and failed to contact security before parking in a remote area of a paddock on the site.

This led to the mine’s production manager believing that the employee was planning to steal the stringers and the cables and a professional investigator confirmed that view.

In meetings with the company, the worker claimed that he thought the cabling he moved was actually used hosing and he was using his own vehicle because the company forklift was unavailable.

He was fired and took his case to the Fair Work Commission, which found his explanation implausible and dismissed his application.

“The Commission’s decision to dismiss the unfair dismissal application indicates that in circumstances where an employer has reasonably formed the view that an employee is planning to engage in serious misconduct, it is not precluded from taking disciplinary action prior to the serious misconduct occurring, including terminating the employment relationship,” the lawyers wrote.

“Planned theft, according to vice president Lawler, who decided the matter, amounted to dishonesty, and provided a valid reason for the dismissal of the employee.”

Have you ever fired someone for planning to steal company property?   

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