In mid 2010, an employee of a company in a medium-sized town in New Zealand was caught taking work items home.

Despite the fact that the employee had worked with the same company for 40 years, that the items did not have a high dollar value, and that they were probably not needed by the company, the employee was dismissed.

The employer’s reason for deciding to dismiss the employee was that taking work items home was in breach of company policies, and therefore the employee had committed serious misconduct.

The employee took the case to the Employment Relations Authority.

The Authority said that when assessed against several social and moral standards, the decision to dismiss the employee would appear overly harsh to many people.  However, the Authority said that its job is not to substitute its own opinion, but to assess the employer’s decision against the statutory test.

The statutory test at the time of the Authority’s decision was whether the employer’s actions, and how the employer acted, were what a fair and reasonable employer would have done in all the circumstances at the time the dismissal occurred.

The Authority found that the company had very clear guidelines in respect to taking company property off site.  Furthermore, it was clear to the Authority that the employee was fully aware of these policies.  With these facts, and in accordance with the statutory test, the Authority held that the dismissal was justified.

Under the test now in place, the employer must only act as a reasonable employer could (not would) act.  This is an easier test for an employer to satisfy.

This case is a good reminder that employers need to have clear work policies and guidelines, and they need to ensure that all employees are aware of these policies and guidelines.

If you would like assistance in preparing work policies and guidelines for your employees, or if you have any issues regarding work guidelines and policies please feel free to call Alan Knowsley.