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Flawed Investigation LeadsTo Award of €15,000 to Dismissed Cashier.

The Complainant had been employed for almost 10 years before he was dismissed by Woodies DIY. An Adjudication Officer determined that he had been fairly dismissed and that it was reasonable in the circumstances for his employer to conclude he had wrongly removed €50 from his till that had been dropped by a customer. The Complainant appealed the decision to the Labour Court.

The Company outlined that they were contacted by a customer on 26thOctober 2015, who enquired as to whether money had been found in the store as €50 was missing from her purse. This was confirmed to have happened after they examined CCTV records and identified that the customer had dropped a €50 note at the employee's till and also that the note had been placed by the employee in his till at 5.17pm on that day.

The Company investigated the matter and established that the employee's till had balanced but for a small ‘overage’ of 19 cent at 6.00pm on the day, which confirmed that the customer’s €50 note had been removed from the till between 5.17pm and 6.00pm (even though the CCTV footage of the till did not show the employee removing the €50 note from the till). The Company conducted a disciplinary and appeal process and concluded that the employee had removed the €50 note from the till. The Company submitted that it had followed fair procedures and that it was reasonable to dismiss, having come to the conclusion it came to, on the balance of probabilities.

The Complainant contended that he had seen a €50 note at his till having completed a transaction with a customer, and had assumed that this note was related to the transaction and had placed it in the till. He submitted that he had never removed the note from the till as alleged. He further submitted that a cashier who was responsible for the removal of notes from his till had taken it, and that he had not signed for any internal transactions involving the removal of notes from his till after 5.17pm on the day in question. The Complainant outlined that others, including the cashier and the cash office, had handled the cash from his till but that the Company had failed to investigate those persons’ interactions with the cash from his till and had failed to properly investigate all possibilities as regards the absence of the €50 note from his till.

The evidence reviewed by the Court confirmed that a second staff member of the Company, a cashier, engaged with the till in the minutes approaching 6.00pm and in those minutes a range of cash related matters were dealt with i.e the notes in the till were counted and despatched to the cash office via two ‘pods’, coins were counted, a ‘Z’ report was run and certain records were completed and signed or not signed. All the cash in the till was handled in a transaction which involved or was observed by both the till operator and the cashier.

It was also determined that whatever happened to the €50 note had happened before the opening of the ‘pods’ from the till in the central cash office on the following day, and therefore, whatever happened to the note had happened before those ‘pods’ were sealed and sent through a secure system to the cash office.

The Court concluded that the Company could not say with certainty what happened to the €50 note and that while its investigation examined the records completed at the till and the CCTV footage of the till, the Investigation process did not engage adequately with the cashier who signed for the removal of all notes from the till after 5.17pm and up to the till closure at 6.00pm. The Court further stated that a comprehensive investigation seeking to establish what happened to the €50 note which was deposited in the till at 5.17pm would require the Company to examine and consider all aspects of cash operations up to and including the moment the ‘pods’ were sealed for transmission to the cash office, and that the Company had not done this by insofar as no engagement took place with the cashier who participated in the relevant cash events occurring at 6.00pm.

The Court therefore found that the investigation undertaken by the Company was not comprehensive to the degree that the outcome could be assured, to provide a basis for conclusions to be drawn on the balance of probabilities following the conduct of the disciplinary process.

The Court stated it's role was to determine whether the decision to dismiss in the circumstances was within the range of responses of a reasonable employer to the events of 26thOctober 2015. The Court found that as the dismissal decision was based on the outcome of the investigation which had not been carried out to a comprehensive standard, it must determine that it was not reasonable of the Company to reach a decision to dismiss the employee in the absence of a comprehensive investigation of all relevant facts and events.

The Court overturned the Adjudication Officer's decision and found that the Complainant was unfairly dismissed. and awarded €15,000 in compensation for his financial loss accruing from his unfair dismissal.

This case highlights the absolute need for a thorough and fair investigation process to be undertaken in potential dismissal cases, and that investigation outcomes must be robust and able to withstand scrutiny. Contact HR Solutions for advice and help about their workplace investigation services.

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