Can you fire a worker for leaving before the end of their shift?

Employer catches worker leaving the workplace early 17 times in six weeks

Can you fire a worker for leaving before the end of their shift?

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) recently dealt with the case of a worker who said she was unfairly dismissed after the employer found out that she was leaving her shift too early and logging false timestamps in her records.

The worker, Julie Budgen, worked for Verifact Traffic Pty Ltd. At the time, Budgen was a traffic controller in the company. She was fired based on an investigation that had uncovered discrepancies in the recording of her shift data.

The termination followed a show-cause process, and the employer cited serious misconduct and a breach of their agreement. On the other hand, the worker argued that the penalty was “harsh, there were flaws in the investigation, and she was not afforded procedural fairness.”

The worker had a full-time role since December 2018. Over an 18-month period leading up to her dismissal, the employer issued two important notices concerning the accurate recording of time dockets by employees.

Alleged shift discrepancies

The worker faced allegations of time fraud due to inaccuracies in recording dockets within the system. The employer uses the Traffio system, which involves the preparation and electronic generation of work dockets.

The said dockets capture start and finish times, which are then verified by a supervisor. Finally, client approval is required at the conclusion of the job, involving at least three signatures for docket completion.

On 4 November 2021, the worker was seen allegedly leaving a job site around two and a half hours earlier than the recorded finish time on the docket.

According to the worker, she had received instructions from Kaine Kiely, the Brisbane City Council site team leader, to travel to Tingalpa for assistance with the trucks, while the other traffic controller was instructed to remain at Ashgrove. The records showed no corresponding data of this in the Traffio system.

The following day, the operations manager reached out to the worker about the said issue with her docket. The worker explained that she had been required to assist with the trucks at Tingalpa and was experiencing difficulties generating multiple dockets simultaneously.

After the incident, the employer started an investigation by monitoring the worker's vehicle movements, recorded finish times, and the timing of docket generation. This process led to the identification of time discrepancies.

The employer then issued a show-cause order and had subsequent meetings with the worker. When the investigation concluded, the employer found the worker’s response as “unsatisfactory” and consequently dismissed the worker.

‘A flawed investigation’

The worker argued that the employer had “no valid reason” for her dismissal. She said there were several occasions where the time she left the job was different from the recorded docket time.

She also said that her departure from the job site was dependent upon the client's instructions. She said there were occasions during her shifts when there was not enough time to take the mandatory 30-minute break as stipulated on the docket.

She said there were times when the job started earlier than the originally scheduled time allocated in the job assignment.

Furthermore, the worker said she was not offered procedural fairness, saying that the penalty was excessive and harsh considering “her length of service, unblemished work performance and lack of evidence.” The worker also said it was "not a fair and full investigation."

The employer’s defence

The employer had said the worker left the site early on 17 occasions within a 6-week period, and a show cause meeting was held regarding the misconduct.

The employer argued that they had a valid reason for dismissal and had undertaken an extensive investigation process confirming the misconduct.

It also said that the worker had been given an opportunity to respond and made accommodations to her request.

The worker was ‘complicit in the misconduct’

In its decision, the FWC noted that the employer said it had a valid reason for dismissal because the worker engaged in time fraud.

On the other hand, the worker said “she was unable to alter the timesheet” because it had to be signed by multiple people, “as all the dockets were signed and approved by a Brisbane City Council representative and a Verifact supervisor.”

“Even though the Traffio system did require three signatures and could only be approved by a supervisor, it does not exonerate or excuse the [worker’s] involvement in the misconduct,” the Commission said.

“[The supervisor] had generated a majority of the dockets barring two, which was done by [the worker]. She had to sign off on the docket, [and she] did not indicate any duress when she had to sign, nor did she indicate that her signature had been forged.”

“This indicates that [the worker] was complicit with the misconduct, and benefited from the misconduct by being remunerated for work that she did not undertake,” it added.

“The [worker’s] submission that the investigator/decision makers failed to conduct a fair and full investigation by not providing the [worker] a valid reason is not accepted [because the employer] had already obtained enough evidence to adduce the [worker] did engage in the alleged misconduct,” the Commission said.

Thus, the FWC said the employer had a valid reason for dismissal and dismissed the worker’s claims.

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