A former employee of the Bank of Sydney has been awarded more than $20,000 in compensation after the Fair Work Commission found she was unfairly dismissed for throwing important documents in the bin.
Pasqualina Repici started working at the bank’s Oakleigh branch as a customer service representative in 2012, but in November 2014 her employment was terminated after her employer discovered that she had incorrectly thrown around 25 bank documents into the document destruction bin.
The documents ranged from customer account statements returned in the mail to certified ID and electronic transaction dispute forms.
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While the Fair Work Commission found the bank had a valid reason or terminating Repici’s employment, the commission found her actions were not deliberate.
The commission also found the bank’s managers did not identify the specific documents thrown out or their level of importance before deciding to sack Repici, and did not encourage her to bring a support person to disciplinary meetings.
As a result, the commission found the dismissal was harsh and Repici was entitled to compensation.
Commissioner Anna Cribb said in her ruling the former employee’s explanation for putting the documents in the bin was “reasonable” and she did not receive procedural fairness during the disciplinary process.
“On the one hand, there was a valid reason – a serious breach of procedures – which would have had a negative impact on the Bank and its customers, if any of those customers queried an action of the Bank which required access to the original document, and it was not in the customer’s file,” Commissioner Cribb said.
“On the other hand, the actions of Ms Repici were not deliberate – the documents had been put in the bin inadvertently, by mistake, in the context of working in a busy branch and in the process of moving desks.”
Ben Tallboys, senior associate at law firm Russell Kennedy, told SmartCompany this case serves as a reminder to business owners to be personally satisfied that a person’s actions warrant dismissal.
Tallboys also points out that an employee should be given a reasonable chance to respond before a final decision is made.
“What this decision tells us is that employers need to be doing everything possible to demonstrate to the commission that they’ve tried to be fair and reasonable in making such a significant decision,” Tallboys says.
“It is really easy to get tripped up on the process when dismissing someone. That’s why it’s so important to step back and think about that process before you start it or before you make any final decision to dismiss someone.”
Tallboys says in this particular case there were two issues that stood out to the commission that are important for business owners to take note of.
“The commission didn’t like the fact that the person who decided to dismiss the applicant couldn’t say with any certainty what documents were thrown out or how important they were,” he says.
“That obviously undermines that decision-maker’s opinion that this is a sackable offence. The second issue was that it was clear that the employee was distressed during the disciplinary meetings, particularly in circumstances where she was admitting to most of the misconduct. The commissioner thought a bigger organisation should have encouraged her to bring a support person along.”
A spokesperson for the Bank of Sydney said in a statement the company was disappointed with the commission’s decision to award compensation.
“The Fair Work Commission found on 21 July 2015 that the Bank of Sydney had a valid reason for terminating the employee’s employment and the Bank of Sydney support that finding,” the spokesperson said.
“Naturally the Bank of Sydney is very disappointed that the Fair Work Commission then awarded compensation to the employee based on the disciplinary process.”
*This story was updated at 4.08pm on 22 July to include a statement from the Bank of Sydney