IGA employee loses unfair dismissal case after taking store items

by HCA07 Jun 2017
The Fair Work Commission has ruled that an IGA store was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable in terminating an employee who took store items with paying.

On 7 February 2017, the director of the Castlemaine IGA supermarket detected an employee leaving the shop with three store items that he hadn’t paid for, the FWC heard.

The director stopped and searched the worker and found the items. He then called the police who did not charge the worker.

The FWC heard that IGA had clear policies against theft or removal of stock without payment by a worker, which are set out in a formal manual in three places, and also in the probationary employment policy that the employee signed.

Even though the employee sought to describe the items as “samples”, they were all stock or saleable items and covered by the employer directions contained in the policy and probation contract.

The employee was then summarily dismissed on the day without notice.

The worker claimed, however, that he had not really been trained in the policy, and that the induction was in 2008, around eight years prior to the incident.

He also sought to claim that he had signed the policy in a purely legal fashion without much knowledge of its contents.

However, the Fair Work Commission deputy president Reg Hamilton ruled that in his view the employee bore responsibility for signing and acknowledging the policy, and cannot escape that responsibility.

Moreover, the employee claimed that his workplace supervisor had authorised him and other staff members to take home store items without payment in the past.

However, this was not known to the director of the company, who told the FWC hadn't heard of that arrangement.

Hamilton agreed that it is not appropriate to condone employees benefitting from “some sort of semi-covert or private arrangement made by someone without the actual authority to authorise such an arrangement”, when they knew or should have known that the arrangement was not bona fide and legitimate.

“Employees are or should be aware that it is not appropriate to mix private and employer property, and this may have particular importance in retail where the business is selling stock for a profit,” said Hamilton.

It is probably not even necessary in some or many cases for an employer to tell retail employees that removing stock for personal benefit without payment is not appropriate, given that such conduct may in fact be theft, Hamilton added.

“They would of course be well advised to have a formal policy on this issue, as the employer has in this case. Nor is this a trivial matter,” he said.

“I have considerable sympathy for (the employee), but he has made a serious mistake. Despite the mitigating factors, in my view the termination was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable.”

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