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Flagrant abuse of Employer’s travel policy justifies summary dismissal

An employee who claimed a blender, Australia Day t-shirt, boxer shorts and bathmats on his company credit card has had his unfair dismissal claim dismissed after he was summarily dismissed for breach the employer’s policy.

The employer had a travel policy that provided that ‘reasonable, necessary and duly documented expenses’ incurred during a business trip would be reimbursed.  The policy also required that expenses be substantiated by receipts or invoices and also placed limits on the amounts that could be claimed for certain expenses, such as meals.  Alongside the travel policy, sat a credit card policy which allowed the employee to purchase ‘business approved travel and minor expenditure’.

During the case, the Fair Work Commission heard that the employee subsequently made the following purchases with his company credit card:

“a blender, an Australia Day t-shirt, 2 Australia Day boxer shorts, a pair of gym shoes, a pair of gym shorts, a 3 meter extension lead, a backpack, a duffle bag, 2 bathmats, a cooler bag, an Australia Day singlet, vitamins, a heater and 14 massages.”

The employee was summarily dismissed after the Fair Work Commission found that a fair investigation and disciplinary process had been undertaken by the employer.  The employee attempted to defend his conduct arguing language difficulties, cultural differences and even the commencement of a bullying complaint, none of which were accepted by the Commission.

The Fair Work Commission confirmed that there was no doubt that there was serious misconduct in this case, and that the application should be dismissed, stating:

“Even if the behaviour was motivated by a lack of judgment and understanding it is such an extreme case, having regard to the level of education, responsibility and seniority of the employee, that it has to be regarded as serious misconduct. An employer has to be able to trust that a senior employee who is expected to work and travel autonomously will use the employer’s credit card responsibly.”

Implications for employers: Having a well-drafted corporate credit card/travel policy which clearly sets out the parameters for appropriate use by employees will greatly assist in taking action against employees for breaching their obligations.

Lisa Aitken is an accredited specialist in workplace relations law and the principal of Aitken Legal, a law firm specialising in employment law for employers. www.aitkenlegal.com.au. The information in this column is intended as a guide only.  Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

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