Employer sacks worker who tried to misuse CEO's digital signature

Employer cites lack of judgement, alleges serious misconduct

Employer sacks worker who tried to misuse CEO's digital signature

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) recently dealt with an unfair dismissal case involving a worker terminated for alleged misuse of the CEO’s digital signature, among other allegations of misconduct.

The employer argued that the worker’s lapse of judgement, which also involved the application of grants, amounted to fraud and serious misconduct, which ultimately warranted the worker’s dismissal.

Misuse of CEO’s digital signatures

The worker commenced employment with the Aboriginal corporation on 6 September 2021 as a community engagement officer on a full-time basis.

As part of her role, the worker applied on behalf of the employer for Grant 1, entitled “Community Sustainability Action Grant,” in early 2022.

“The [worker’s] conduct in completing it and the way she sought electronic signatures (from the receptionist for the Chairman) for the execution of Grant 1, formed background to the issues that were related to her submission of the Grant 2 application, which was relied on for the termination,” the FWC noted.

Based on the worker’s conduct with regard to the grant applications, the employer issued a show-cause correspondence stating the alleged serious misconduct of the worker.

First, the employer alleged that on 20 September 2022, the worker fraudulently declared that the CEO had tendered funding application with “smarty grants” with the Queensland government amounting to $75,000.

It was alleged that the worker inappropriately requested the CEO’s digital signature for the grant application without the latter’s knowledge.

Meanwhile, the second allegation arose from an official complaint against the worker, alleging her conduct of an intimidating, demeaning nature which, based on the company’s policies, equated to bullying and harassment.

Lastly, the employer alleged that the worker treated an external consultant in an aggressive and derogatory manner.

“Specifically, it is alleged that when you contacted the consultant, you spoke to the consultant in a tone that was rude, aggressive, and derogatory,” the employer stated. “The consultant reminded you that she was there to support you and that she was there to assist you.”

Show-cause letter

In the show-cause letter, the worker was also told to respond in writing to such allegations. Otherwise, it would be treated as an indication that she no longer intended to be employed by the company.

While the worker sought assistance from a legal representative, they did not submit a response to the show cause letter by the deadline given, 2 November 2022. Hence, the employer issued a termination letter on 8 November 2022.

However, in her submission to the FWC, the worker contended that the allegations against her were easily disprovable and the conclusions reached were nothing more than “pointing with a wavering finger to an affirmative conclusion.”

Specifically, concerning the fraudulent allegation, the worker said that during her employment, there was no work training nor policies, particularly on the use or application of digital signatures provided by the employer. Hence, there was no way for her to know the expectations relating to her role.

Generally, the worker noted that instead of termination, the employer should have only issued warnings or plans to address deficiencies, given the lack of evidence for the allegations.

FWC’s decision

Ultimately, in its decision, the Commission said it was satisfied that the employer had a valid reason for terminating the worker’s employment.

While the FWC did not find the worker’s conduct as fraudulent, it dismissed the worker’s unfair dismissal case as it found that her failure to get approval for the grant application before filing it and the failure to communicate with the CEO constituted serious misconduct.

It also alleged that the worker’s conduct was a breach of trust and confidence required in her employment.

“The [worker’s] use of the CEO’s name as the Applicant Accountable Officer and the false affirmation that the CEO agreed to the declaration and the undertakings being made to the State Government, was an act of deceit in a commercial setting,” the Commission noted.

Hence, it ruled that there was no unfair dismissal. The worker’s application was rejected.

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