A Field Services Technician employed by a large mining equipment retailer was found to have been unfairly dismissed due to a flawed investigation into allegations of the employee’s intent to steal a customer’s struts.
The employee placed struts belonging to his customer into his work ute when attending the site. An employee of the customer asked if he was planning on stealing the struts and was told that he was just comparing them to other struts of his own that were in the ute. There had been two witnesses to the incident who provided written accounts that were conflicting. In investigation, the employer did not question these witnesses to determine the differences in their statements and what had really occurred. Further it was suggested that there was a history of animosity between the dismissed employee and one of the witnesses. The employer provided no opportunity for the employee to respond to the contents of the statements.
The decision to terminate the employee was made by the Regional Services Manager who was not involved in the investigation process however relied on the Field Services Manager who conducted the investigation who advised that he was not satisfied with the explanation provided by the Field Services Technician. The explanation was that he placed 2 of 4 struts into his ute for comparison and returned them to the storage area approx. 15 minutes later after telling one of the witnesses he had no intention of stealing the struts. It was found that the employee did not seek permission to take the struts to his ute nor did he give explanation when he returned them to the storage area.
The employer claimed that the employee’s conduct had caused the employer to lose trust in him and the customer had advised that the Field Services Technician was not to return to site. In addition, the Field Services Technician had a history of several breaches resulting in some customers requesting that he not visit them again.
The Fair Work Commission found that because the employer had not conducted a thorough investigation to determine the intentions of the employee with regard to the struts, the Field Services Manager had relied upon incomplete information when deciding to terminate, the dismissal was therefore unfair.
Whilst the employee’s evidence was not 100% solid, it was determined that there was not enough evidence to prove that his intention was to steal the customer’s struts.
As a result, the employee was awarded $28,313 even after it was determined that the employee had contributed to the loss of trust between the parties due to his lack of seeking permission to remove the struts from the storage area. Due to this, reinstatement was deemed unsuitable.
The Fair Work Commission, in determining this amount, gave consideration to the evidence that several customers had requested that the Field Services Technician not attend their sites, that his employment would have only lasted about another four months.
This case shows how important a thorough investigation process is when looking into allegations of misconduct.
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