The Employment Relations Authority has upheld a personal grievance claim for an unjustified dismissal after an employee was sacked for stealing alcohol from the workplace.

In carrying out the investigation into the alleged theft the employer had viewed camera footage of various areas of the workplace.  Part of that camera footage was clear and showed the employee working and moving around the premises at or about the time of the thefts. It also showed him leaving the premises carrying a plastic bag which had something in it, but the contents could not be seen. 

Also viewed was unclear camera footage, which showed a person entering the fridge where the alcohol was stored and leaving the fridge sometime later.  Only the employee who was alleged to have stolen the alcohol and one other employee’s whereabouts could not be ascertained at the time the mystery person was in the fridge, so that narrowed the possibilities down to the two of the employees working at the time.  What the employer failed to consider was whether other employees had returned to the workplace after their shift had ended as these people were possible suspects as well.

The employer concluded that the employee was guilty of stealing the alcohol because he was seen leaving the area where he should have been working on cameras and then seen returning to that area shortly thereafter.  In between his leaving and returning the other camera footage showed a person entering the fridge and leaving the fridge.

The ERA however, on a close examination of the footage, discovered that there was only a very short few second gap between the offender leaving the fridge and other camera footage showing the employee re-entering another part of the workplace without carrying any alcohol.  This means that if he was the offender, he had to have exited the fridge, hidden the alcohol and made his way to another part of the premises in only 17 seconds.  The ERA concluded that a reasonable employer could not have reached the conclusion that this employee was guilty of the thefts based on unclear video footage and assumptions which did not appear to be correct.

Also the employer failed to take into account that the employee had worked for the employer for 17 years with a completely unblemished record and did not drink alcohol.

The employee was awarded $8,900 lost wages plus $12,000 compensation for hurt and humiliation.  He did not seek reinstatement to his position.

When carrying out an investigation it is vitally important that employers carefully consider all of the evidence and put any evidence available to the employee to comment on.  In this case the employer had only put some of the video footage to the employee and not the video footage which might have cleared him.

Alan Knowsley
Employment Lawyer