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An unwelcome price to pay for accepting free gifts

Published 29 March 2023

It certainly took a while but Cole was eventually cleared of theft when his employer accepted he did not steal gifts from the office. CCTV footage said to support the allegation, witness statements and a flawed investigation were referred to as evidence, which actually led to the allegation finally being dismissed.

Cole was accused of taking free gifts, expensive bottles of alcohol and complimentary tickets, left for his team by a grateful client as a thank you for work carried out. Despite later proving his innocence, the graphic designer left the role that he had held for three years with a settlement agreement. Cole was devastated by his treatment, manner in which his honesty had been questioned and he justifiably lost all trust and confidence in his employer.

The disciplinary process, including the disciplinary investigation and disciplinary hearing took seven months in total. The gifts from the client included hospitality tickets for a sporting event. Three unknown males were refused access to the event when they attempted to use the tickets to gain entry.

The client raised this with Cole’s employer, and it triggered an investigation. Cole was implicated because the gifts were handed to him, which was captured on CCTV on reception. Two colleagues recalled him coming back into the office with the presents, showing them off and leaving them on a desk. What happened next is uncertain and something of a mystery. Cole said he left the gifts on a desk in the open plan office, returned to his work and never saw them again. He was shocked when two weeks later he was summoned to his manager’s office, accused of theft and suspended from work. The following week he was invited to attend a fact-finding meeting at which he protested his innocence.

Cole accepted the gifts were handed to him in reception, but was adamant he did not see them after that. The investigating manager showed Cole the CCTV footage of him taking the gifts, which she claimed was incriminating, as it showed him looking through the bags given to him. It was effectively the main evidence against him along with witness statements from the two colleagues who simply said they saw him show the gifts off.

Cole was accused of taking the items and giving them or selling them to his ‘friends.’ When Cole was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing to face an allegation of theft, he contacted our Employee Support Centre for help. Our representative requested from the employer a range of information about the investigation, which helped him to establish it was not thorough or fair. It clearly showed because Cole was handed the gifts, which was evidenced, he was considered guilty from the outset and no one else was quizzed. Not even the employee whose desk Cole and the witnesses said the gifts had been left on Our representative highlighted the flawed and unfair investigation at the disciplinary hearing, lambasted the employer for the time it had taken, which he argued was unreasonable and extraordinary given the limited scope of it and evidence produced – statement from Cole, two witness statements, a statement from the client and CCTV. He used this to demonstrate and maintain that no reasonable employer would ever uphold the allegation based on the evidence. In a full rebuttal of the allegation he asserted Cole was not responsible for the items going missing.

The harmful impact the matter had on Cole was explained and used to support why he had for good reason lost trust and confidence in the employer. Relieved Cole was cleared of the allegation on the day of the hearing, and invited to return to work. However, it led our representative to initiate a discussion about a settlement agreement, which was Cole’s preferred outcome. The terms were later discussed, negotiated and agreed.

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