Employer doesn’t like those apples

Employee didn't follow company policy when taking apples and paying for them later

This instalment of You Make the Call features a grocery store worker who was caught taking too many apples.

The worker was a clerk for 16 years at a British Columbia grocery store operated by Overwaitea Food Group. She had no disciplinary issues and her performance evaluations usually met or exceeded expectations.

The worker’s duties included off-till duties in the store’s cash office, which required attention to detail and mostly unsupervised work, during which she handled almost all of the cash that went through the store. She usually started work at 6:30 a.m. but often arrived early before any other cashiers.

Overwaitea had a team member purchase policy (TMP) that prohibited employees from entering their own transactions and buying items outside of regular store hours. Employees were also required to immediately pay for everything purchased at the store. Employees had been dismissed for violating the TMP and the worker was aware of this.

The worker was diabetic and ate apples throughout the day to control her blood sugar. She usually arrived at work early, and on days when she didn’t have apples with her, she gathered apples from the store’s produce section, weighed them at the till and saved the transaction under her employee number. She was aware of the policy not to complete her own transactions, but thought it was an acceptable workaround to save her transactions, which generated a slip, and present the slip to another cashier later in the day to pay for the apples during store hours.

In March 2015, an anonymous employee tipped off the resource protection department that the worker had saved a transaction for apples and had asked to recall the transaction during store hours. The department informed the store manager, who approached the worker and told her to “ensure you follow all the store policies, including for your own purchases.”

The worker claimed she didn’t make the connection and said it never occurred to her that she violated the policy. The manager also told her to avoid going down the same road as an employee who had been fired for breaching policy. The worker was confused but didn’t ask for clarification.

Three months later, a cashier told the manager that the worker continued to pay for earlier saved transactions. The manager generated a report of unrecalled saved transactions over the previous 12 months, which showed the worker had bought apples 78 times during the past year before store hours began and failed to recall and pay six times.

The manager called an investigative meeting and asked the worker about saved transactions that weren’t recalled. The worker indicated she understood that such transactions cost the store money. She acknowledged that had happened “five to ten times” for her and on those occasions, she got a cashier to ring it in as a department sale.

The worker was suspended pending investigation and it was confirmed one unrecalled transaction was later paid for as a department sale. However, six didn’t appear to have been paid for, going back 12 months, and the other cashiers didn’t remember entering them. The manager also found that on four of the six days there was an unrecalled transaction, the worker purchased items later in the day, providing an opportunity to recall.

The manager met with the worker again and the worker acknowledged that she must not have paid, but didn’t intentionally avoid it. The manager noted she looked stressed but didn’t seem surprised by the findings.

The manager dismissed the worker on June 26, 2015, to which the worker said “Are you serious?” and asked why she wasn’t warned. The manager referred to his caution in March, to which the worker said she didn’t make the connection and didn’t intend to “rip the store off.” The manager felt the worker’s intention didn’t matter, as the matter was cut and dried — she breached the store’s policy.

You Make the Call

Was dismissal too harsh?
Was the worker’s policy breach just cause for dismissal?

If you said dismissal was too harsh, you’re right. The arbitrator agreed that the worker failed to pay for saved transactions for apples on at least six occasions over the 12 months before her dismissal. However, there were no real indications she did so intentionally and it was more likely she simply forgot. She wasn’t sure when these transactions took place and she always did it out in the open in front of store cameras, so there was no attempt to conceal what she was doing, said the arbitrator.

In addition, the arbitrator pointed out that the worker remedied some unsaved transactions by having a cashier ring in a department sale, so it was even more unlikely she intended to act dishonestly. Given the number of times the worker took apples from the store and saved a transaction — 78 times in one year — it was reasonable to believe she may have forgotten to pay for a few, even if she made a purchase later in the day, said the arbitrator.

The arbitrator also found the store manager’s warning wasn’t a good one, as it was vague and the worker didn’t understand to what the manager was referring.

The arbitrator determined that Overwaitea failed to prove the worker acted with dishonesty that would lead to a breach of trust. Overwaitea was ordered to reinstate the worker with compensation.

For more information see:

Overwaitea Food Group and UFCW, Local 1518, Re, 2015 CarswellBC 4003 (B.C. Arb.).

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