Employee gets gassed for using company card

Company gas card and truck were allowed for personal use for years before they were taken away

This edition of You Make the Call looks at an employee who was fired for using a company gas card after he was told to turn it in.

David Strauss, 47, was an area supervisor for Albrico Services, a subcontractor that provides insulation on large construction projects in Western Canada. Strauss opened an Albrico branch in Langley, B.C., in 1992 and he was told to “run the company like it was (his) own.” He was given a company vehicle and gas card which he was allowed to use for both business and personal purposes.

In August 2001, Strauss took two co-workers on a fishing trip using the company truck and gas card. He had gone on the same vacation using the truck and card for several years. The new vice-president of Albrico met with him on Sept. 10, 2001, and told him he couldn’t use the truck and gas card for certain purposes, which Straus took to mean his vacation travel. Nothing was entered on Strauss’ record and he was not told of any consequences to disobeying this order.

On Oct. 19, 2001, the vice-president ordered Strauss to be demoted from area manager. However, the executives couldn’t reach an agreement and Strauss retained his position and the company truck and gas card.

In January 2002, Strauss went to work for Albrico in Red Deer, Alta., and later Fort McMurray, Alta., where he would be working on the sites instead of supervising. As part of the move, his pay remained at the supervisor’s rate for three months before being reduced. He was allowed to keep the truck and gas card despite no longer being a supervisor. He used the truck and gas card to drive to his home in Langley on his days off.

In April 2002, Strauss was told to return the truck to the Edmonton office and the gas card to the Langley office the next time he was there.

He was not specifically given a reason for the change in his perks and his ­status and salary remained the same. However, he kept the gas card and used it to pay for his gasoline to drive between his home and the work site in his personal vehicle. When the company learned of this, if fired him on June 13, 2002, for theft of gasoline.


You Make the Call
Was Strauss wrongully dismissed?
OR
Did Albrico have just cause to fire him?



If you said Albrico was too quick to fire Strauss and his dismissal was unjust, you’re right.

The British Columbia Supreme Court found Strauss should have known he was to turn in his gas card and to continue to use it was bad ­judgment. However, it found he was not given specific instructions on when to give it up and since the company didn’t have any policies on gas cards, he ­didn’t appreciate that using it would be considered theft at that point, ­particularly since his job hadn’t changed.

The court learned Albrico had fired Strauss immediately after learning he had used the gas card in its audit of expenses without an investigation. It didn’t give him an opportunity to explain his conduct or arrange to refund the company.

The court also found Albrico had no formal policies or procedures dictating the use of gas cards, so without an explanation Strauss wouldn’t have had reason to suspect using the gas card as he did would get him fired.

“(Albrico) was obligated to do a more thorough investigation and provide Mr. Strauss with an opportunity to explain his actions and intention before summarily terminating him,” the court said.

Because Strauss had been with Albrico for 16 years with a clean employment record, the court found he was entitled to 16 months’ pay in lieu of notice.

For more information see:

Strauss v. Albrico Services (1982) Ltd., 2007 CarswellBC 302, 57 C.C.E.L. (3d) 55 (B.C. S.C.).

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