Safeway employee’s giveaway cause for dismissal

Cashier tossed vegetables in bag without properly scanning price

An Alberta grocery store worker’s dismissal for placing asparagus in a customer’s cart without charging for it has been upheld as just by an arbitrator.

Ian Watson was a part-time clerk in the produce department of an Alberta Safeway grocery store. Part of his job was to relieve cashiers if the store was busy or cashiers needed a break. However, he didn’t like to perform cashier duties and felt it took him away from his “real work” in the produce department.

On July 23, 2010, Watson began work in the mid-afternoon. Most of the produce work had been taken care of by the earlier shift, so Watson planned to do a few tasks over the course of the afternoon. However, he was asked to fill in as a cashier for the afternoon.

When Watson served his first customer, he had some trouble ringing in two bunches of asparagus. He tried scanning the code on each but the price wouldn’t register. Each time he tried, the cash register made a loud beeping noise.

The customer was a Safeway employee who was aware that the asparagus needed to be weighed on the scale before being scanned. He told Watson to do so and what the scan code was, but Watson just put the asparagus in the bag without scanning it. The customer told him to put it on the scale but Watson looked to both sides and then replied, “ssshhh, it’s all right.” The customer took the asparagus out of the bag and put it on the scale, where it registered a price of $5.90.

After leaving the store, the customer called his wife — also a Safeway employee working in the store. The wife passed along the information to the manager, who asked the customer to email a statement about what happened.

The manager asked Watson about the incident. Watson admitted to what he did and that he “probably” said “ssshhh, it’s all right.” He acknowledged that he was aware about Safeway’s employee honesty and integrity policy and had taken cashier training that emphasized the importance of accurately keying in produce codes. Watson also said he was so busy he didn’t think to ask for help.

Watson was suspended pending a decision and on July 27, 2010, Safeway terminated his employment for violating the honesty and integrity policy, as well as “sweethearting,” a practice involving giving discounts or freebies to certain customers.

The arbitrator found that there were no indications things were any busier in the store that day and there was no reason for Watson to get flustered, confused or stressed to the point he couldn’t ask for help. Though he didn’t gain a financial benefit from his misconduct, he did expect a personal benefit by moving things along and stopping the beeping that told everyone he was having trouble.

Watson was well aware of the honesty policy, and the fact he looked around and whispered showed he knew what he was doing was wrong, said the arbitrator. Though he didn’t know the customer, the act had the same effect on Safeway as any instance of “sweethearting.” This was a breach of trust fundamental to the employment relationship, since cashier duty was mostly unsupervised, said the employer. Since he had only worked at Safeway for two years and it was a serious offence, the arbitrator upheld the dismissal. See U.F.C.W., Local 401 v. Canada Safeway Ltd., 2011 CarswellAlta 2140 (Alta. Arb. Bd.).

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