Equipment firm loses unfair dismissal case amid theft allegations

A supply chain firm has been ordered to pay a former staff member £22,000, after a tribunal cast doubt on its claims the ex-employee had pocketed cash by secretly hiring out its products.

Concord Lifting Equipment (CLE), based in Wimbledon, south-west London, claimed that the former staff member had committed misconduct.

It alleged that the ex-employee had admitted to theft in the form of of secretly hiring out the company’s equipment and keeping the money.

However, employment judge Burns said that based on the evidence before it, his tribunal did “not feel able to make a finding of theft” despite “suspicious” texts having been sent by the former staff member. The judge delivered a ruling of unfair dismissal in the case.

The former staff member, who had worked as depot manager for 16 years, received a bank transfer of £400 in September 2018 following text messages in which they provided personal bank details to a scaffolding client and appeared to arrange equipment hire.

However, the former staff member said that a payment of £400 to him in 2018 was not linked to any dishonest hiring of the equipment but was part of the £1,200 price for a hoist. He claimed that a director at the company had arranged the sale of the hoist “for his own benefit”.

The former staff member added that the day after receiving the money, he paid the £400 in cash to the company director.

The employment tribunal said “the matter is stale, clouded and ambiguous” due to allegations emerging three years later and due to the further allegations that a company director had “acted dishonestly” and was “therefore […] a tainted source”.

It is not known whether the police are investigating the allegation.

According to the tribunal judgement, CLE managing director Chris Kerrison – who was not the director accused by the former staff member of hiring out equipment for his own benefit – had “a genuine belief that the claimant was guilty of theft both in 2018 and continuing until the claimant went off on furlough in 2020”.

However, English law and the Arbitration, Conciliation and Arbitration Service code require that an employer contemplating dismissing an employee for misconduct must give them an opportunity to answer the charges and defend themselves before a decision is made. This did not happen.

The judgement says: “The fact that the matter is serious does not allow the procedure to be dispensed with – in such a case the need for a fair hearing is greater.”

In his evidence to the tribunal, Kerrison said he acted as he did “to prevent [the former staff member] destroying physical or digital evidence” and “from trying to pressurise or intimidate staff or customers”.

But the judgement concluded that the “whole process was unfair, principally because it did not include any consideration of, investigation into or reasoned conclusion” about the former staff member’s explanation for his receipt of money in 2018.

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