Altering Superior’s E-Mail Warrants Termination

Altering a superior’s e-mail to indicate approval for a couple of extra options on a company car resulted in termination for an “exceptional” employee with no record of discipline.

An area manager for a chartered bank, responsible for business marketing and sales, A.D. had been on the job seven years when he requested — and was given approval — to lease a Jeep Grand Cherokee as a work vehicle.

Standard procedures for approval called for A.D. to provide the leasing company with a signed order form specifying the vehicle type and the necessary approvals. It was understood that any deviations from the standard vehicle package to be paid for by the employer required authorization from a senior vice-president.

Given the amount of highway driving in his job, A.D. made a pitch to his supervisor for an upgrade to a V-8 engine and a sunroof. A.D.’s supervisor forwarded the e-mail request and it was approved.

Along with the upgrade to the bigger engine came a number of other upgrades, however, not the tow package, running boards, mud flaps and bug deflector that A.D. wanted — it was A.D.’s intention to buy out the lease at the end and keep the vehicle.

Driver paid options

When A.D. later made inquiries (via e-mail) to the leasing company about the possibility of adding the other options, he was told they could be added as “driver paid options” (DPOs) that would be charged to him.

A.D. requested that the options be included as factory-installed options and handled as DPOs. However, A.D. became upset when he was informed that because the vehicle was already in production, the options he requested would now have to be added by the dealer at a cost to him of about $1,800.

Upon taking delivery of the vehicle, A.D. was asked by the leasing company where to direct the dealer invoice for the requested options. In response, A.D. forwarded the e-mail between his supervisor and the vice-president giving approval for the initial V-8 upgrade. However, in addition to specifying the sunroof and the bigger engine, the e-mail now included as approved items “running boards” and a “trailer tow package.”

The leasing agent recognized the e-mail, checked her records and brought the discrepancies to the attention of the employer. A.D.’s supervisor alerted corporate security. A.D. was interviewed, suspended and then terminated two weeks later.

“Nobody is perfect”

Before an adjudicator, A.D. took the position that while altering the e-mail did warrant discipline, termination was excessively harsh in the circumstances. “Nobody is perfect,” he said, and “people make mistakes.”

A.D. maintained that it was his sincere “belief” that he had approval for the additional upgrades, believing that they were included as part of the basic V-8 upgrade. As well, he argued, because he would have to pay extra to buy out the lease at the end to reflect the increased value of the vehicle resulting from the DPOs that he added, it wasn’t right that he should have to pay twice for the options.

Altering an approval e-mail and falsely representing a senior management decision was an extremely serious transgression — “a firing offense,” the employer argued, particularly in an industry where honesty and integrity are fundamental.

It was unnecessary, the adjudicator said, to consider whether or not the alteration of the e-mail by itself — absent the taint of dishonest motivation — was sufficient to warrant termination. Termination was warranted, the adjudicator said.

A.D. acknowledged that altering the e-mail was wrong but argued his “belief” that he had authorization for the upgrades — erroneous though it was — meant there no dishonest motivation. The adjudicator was not persuaded.

No “psychic powers”

“The difficulty with beliefs is that adjudicators have not yet developed psychic powers. It is impossible to prove or disprove with certainty whether someone actually believes that which they purport to believe or the person is simply claiming they believed something when in fact they did not.”

A.D.’s claims didn’t add up, the adjudicator said. “The evidence is simply not consistent with [A.D.’s] contention that he definitely believed the tow package had been authorized at the time he altered the e-mail.” A.D.’s stated concerns about having to pay twice — in his view — for the DPOs also spoke to motivation, the adjudicator said, beyond a misplaced belief that he had authorization for the upgrades. The termination was upheld.

Reference: Bank of Montreal and A.D. Allen Ponak — Sole Adjudicator. D. Grant Watson for the Complainant and Daniel Hagg for the Employer. October 26, 2009. 34 pp.

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