The Fair Work Commission has ruled a manager who wrote the name of one of her team members at the bottom of a document was unfairly dismissed for forgery.
Garima Manishi was awarded $17,330 in compensation by deputy president Greg Smith at the end of last month after she was sacked from her role as team leader of SAI Global’s electronic document records management division.
Smith found Manishi’s sacking was unfair because her conduct was not an act of forgery, but was instead a mistake.
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The commission heard in May 2014, Manishi was assisting another employee, Lenore Comrie, with the indexing of documents during a busy period. When the task was completed, Manishi wrote the other employee’s name on a receipt to indicate they had done the work together.
But five months later, during a training course on employee conduct, Comrie raised the issue, stating that a module on dishonest conduct “struck a cord” with her and made her remember the incident. Comrie said she was concerned that any failure in that document may have been attributed her.
In October, Manishi was called into a meeting where the allegation was put to her that she had forged another employee’s name.
Initially, without having seen the document in question, Manishi responded by saying she “would never do anything like that”.
When the document was later produced, Manishi conceded she had written Comrie’s name on the document but it was because she had done the preparatory work on it. She also said it was a general practice in the team to write colleague’s names on documents and said she didn’t believe it was illegal or would have any impact on the organisation.
SAI Global took the view Manishi’s initial denial of the “forgery” was wilful and, at a subsequent meeting, dismissed her for serious and wilful misconduct, despite her apologising and promising to be more careful in the future.
However, Smith found there was no evidence Manishi had sought to make an illegal copy of Comrie’s signature for any particular gain.
“I am not satisfied that it could be properly described as Ms Manishi “forging” a signature,” Smith said.
Smith accepted it was wrong of Manishi to have written someone else’s name on a document but said the event was a mistake.
“I am loathed to find that a mistake of this character made during a busy period where employees are seeking to maintain service levels constitutes unethical conduct or a lack of integrity,” said Smith.
“This is clearly not a case of serious misconduct,” he said, finding SAI Global had no valid reason to dismiss Manishi and awarding her $17,330.00 in compensation.
Daniel Victory, associate in industrial law at Maurice Blackburn, told SmartCompany SAI Global should have presented Manishi with the full evidence at the outset and should not have focussed on her initial denial.
“I can’t help thinking that if the employee was presented with all evidence and information, she would have been a better position to give her account of what happened initially,” says Victory.
“When she did look at it, when it was actually presented to her, she was contrite, admitted to it and apologised.”
Victory says the case is a reminder that employers should present all evidence to employees so they can provide a response to any allegation.
“Secondly, employers need to consider all of the circumstances relating to an individual employee and not focus too heavily on one isolated comment,” he adds.
SmartCompany contacted SAI Global but did not receive a response prior to publication.