Sticky-fingered employee takes ‘business expense’ too far

The employee was caught expensing personal purchases to a company account

Sticky-fingered employee takes ‘business expense’ too far

In a recent decision, the Fair Work Commission considered allegations of a bank employee expensing personal coffee orders to a company account. The applicant was a customer service specialist employed by the respondent, Credit Union Australia Ltd (“CUA”).

In her role, the applicant offered tea and coffee to CUA members visiting the Brisbane bank branch. Beverages were ordered through the local café, Hard Coffee, and charged to the company’s account. From July 2019, CUA staff could no longer use the company’s account for personal coffee purchases.

In July 2020, on the respondent’s inquiry, the manager of Hard Coffee produced invoices for CUA’s account. Upon review, the respondent opined that the amount invoiced appeared considerably high, given the bank branch’s foot traffic had been dramatically reduced on account of the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown in the preceding months.

The managers concluded that the applicant, and another branch employee, had used the CUA account for $100 of personal coffee purchases throughout March, April and May 2020. After several letters and meetings, the applicant was summarily dismissed based on serious misconduct.

The respondent relied on evidence from the café manager, who stated that, in April 2020, she warned the applicant that her using the CUA account would be revealed, given the lack of branch customers. The applicant rejected this submission and stated that the café manager had a motive to lie, given it allowed her to claim coffee purchases that the applicant may not have made.

The applicant relied on an overheard conversation in which branch managers spoke about finding “two good salespeople” to assert that the respondent decided to terminate her prior to the coffee purchase investigation. The Commission rejected this, not satisfied that CUA had an existing agenda to terminate her employment.

The Commission described the applicant as “lacking in credibility” and found she purposefully hid her true coffee consumption. It commented that her conduct “strikes at the heart of her duties… to be honest in all of her transactions at or involving the workplace” and that it did not consider the dismissal to be “capricious, fanciful, spiteful or prejudiced”.

The Commission dismissed the unfair dismissal application.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Commission described the financial services sector as one requiring “demonstrated high levels of integrity”
  • With this, it considered the theft of just $100 to constitute serious misconduct, as it provided an “opportunity for further misadventure”

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