A cleaner has won his job back along with $9000 in compensation after he was sacked over allegations he stole a cup of coffee.
Raj Bista, a part-time cleaner based in Sydney, had a cup of coffee shortly before commencing his shift on January 12 this year, according to Fair Work Commission documents.
Bista made the cup of coffee in the kitchen of the office he was cleaning because staff there had previously told him to help himself.
However, the cleaner was later confronted by a manager of the same office, who asked where he had gotten the coffee from and said he wasn’t allowed to use the office’s kitchen supplies.
Bista apologised, but his employer Glad Commercial Cleaning investigated the matter and decided he had engaged in theft.
Because of this, Glad Commercial Cleaning informed the part-time cleaner and international student he had committed serious misconduct warranting summary dismissal.
No “sound” reason for the dismissal
Bista took the matter to the Fair Work Commission, arguing the sacking was unfair and he should be reinstated.
The commission agreed, finding there was not a “sound, defensible or well-founded reason” for his dismissal.
“In my view, describing the conduct as ‘theft’ verges on an abuse of the English language as used and understood by the ordinary person,” Fair Work Commission vice president Adam Hatcher said in his judgment.
Hatcher also quoted popular author Alain de Botton in his ruling: “Office civilisation could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol”.
As a result, the Fair Work Commission ordered Bista be paid $9187.20, less tax.
The commission also ordered Bista to be reinstated to his position.
What are the lessons for business owners?
Rachel Drew, partner at TressCox Lawyers, told SmartCompany despite the serious nature of the complaint, the employer still had an obligation to ensure a fair process to its employee.
“The lesson for employers from this case is to make sure they have the principles of dismissal right,” Drew says.
“There really are only two main principles with dismissal. The first is you’ve got a good reason to dismiss, and the second is you follow a fair process. The commission’s decision in this matter is that Glad Group didn’t get the first principle correct … there are [also] some comments in there to suggest they didn’t get the second principle correct either.”
SmartCompany contacted Glad Group, owner of Glad Commercial Cleaning, for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.
SmartCompany was unable to contact Raj Bista for comment.