The Fair Work Commission Full Bench’s decision in Johnson v North West Supermarkets T/A Castlemaine IGA involved an appeal from an unsuccessful unfair dismissal claim by a retail employee who was summarily dismissed after being caught removing items of stock from the store.
It was noted by the Commission that the employee’s conduct breached his employer’s policies on theft and removing stock from the workplace. These policies had been signed and acknowledged by the employee when he commenced employment some eight years prior.
The employee claimed, however, that his direct supervisor had authorised him and a small number of other employees in the business to take certain items of stock home without payment. The Full Bench found that this sort of arrangement did exist in this workplace, and that the conduct had been authorised by the employee’s supervisor. Significantly, however, this practice was not approved or known by the employer.
At first instance the Commission dismissed the unfair dismissal claim on the basis that the employee’s conduct was a clear breach of his employer’s policies, even if authorised by his supervisor.
On appeal, the Full Bench agreed that there had been a breach of company policy, but found that the authorisation by the supervisor, as well as a range of other mitigating factors meant that summary dismissal in these circumstances was harsh. The Bench then referred the matter for a separate hearing to determine the amount of compensation to be awarded to the employee.
What does this decision mean for employers?
This decision demonstrates the need for employers to ensure accountability of managers and supervisors in the workplace. Employers should be in regular contact with their supervising employees to ensure that they are aware of the workplace’s operating policies and procedures, they are training employees in compliant practices, role-modelling compliance themselves, monitoring compliance of staff, and addressing any non-compliance as appropriate.