Little bottles lead to big trouble

Liquor store employee took a few sample bottles for his own use

This instalment of You Make the Call features a sticky-fingered employee who worked part-time at a Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) store in Regina. In addition to in-store duties, he was responsible for filling orders for licensees, which were usually businesses such as bars and restaurants. He had no disciplinary issues and positive performance appraisals in six years working at the store.

Sometimes, suppliers to the stores had promotions where they attached small bottles of one product to a regular bottle of another product at no extra charge. SLGA’s policy was to keep these promotional bottles for in-store sale only and not for licensees. A 1996 memo, which the employee saw when he was hired, stipulated the promotional mini-bottles were paid for by the suppliers and were “not to be removed for personal use” by employees. The memo further stated removal of mini-bottles would be considered theft.

SLGA’s corrective discipline policy stated the severity of discipline would depend on the misconduct and theft would “most likely result in discharge.”

On July 10, 2007, a co-worker notified the manager of mini-bottle packaging in the garbage. The manager found packaging for five mini-bottles of Captain Morgan’s rum. The manager then discovered the employee had processed a sale of five large bottles of Captain Morgan’s to a licensee the previous day.

The store’s security tape revealed the employee filling the licensee’s order with bottles that had the promotional mini-bottles attached, despite the fact there were other bottles available. He then removed the mini-bottles, throwing the packing in the garbage and pocketing them.

The next day the employee was told he would be on a paid suspension pending an investigation into theft. Another meeting was called two days later when the investigation was completed.

The employee admitted he took the mini-bottles, acknowledged he had done it before and also taken promotional salt shakers. He apologized and asked for an exception to allow him to return to work. He also said he was going through difficulties in his personal life.

However, on July 18, SLGA decided to terminate the employee because it couldn’t trust him and he was aware of the punishment for theft. The union argued termination was too harsh as the employee was sorry for his actions and his personal problems were a factor.

You Make the Call

Was termination for theft appropriate?
Should SLGA have been more lenient in its discipline?

IF YOU SAID SLGA should have been more lenient, you’re right. The arbitrator recognized theft was very serious misconduct that warranted discipline and the employee was well aware taking promotional mini-bottles was not allowed, but the corrective discipline policy didn’t give SLGA free rein to immediately fire the employee.

The policy stated discharge was “most likely” the punishment for theft, but this meant it wasn’t automatic. The arbitrator found the door was open for lesser discipline. Despite the employee’s violation of SLGA’s trust and the premeditated nature of the theft, the arbitrator found several mitigating factors that prompted him to reinstate him.

The employee was a good worker with no prior disciplinary record, he didn’t try to justify his actions, he showed genuine remorse and apologized, he had stresses in his personal life which may have been a factor and the items he stole were of limited value, the arbitrator said.

“I am satisfied that (the employee), if reinstated, will be a model employee and will never again engage in theft,” said the arbitrator. “I do not believe reinstatement will pose an undue risk to SLGA.”

SLGA was ordered to reinstate the employee but, in recognition of the seriousness of his misconduct, did not award any compensation. The arbitrator also said future misconduct would “almost certainly” result in the employee’s firing. See S.G.E.U., Local 6080 v. Saskatchewan (Liquor & Gaming Authority), 2009 CarswellSask 525 (Sask. Arb. Bd.).

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