Dismissal of Store manager for inappropriate conduct upheld

Dismissal of Store manager for inappropriate conduct upheld

The Fair Work Commission has upheld the decision of retail giant Coles to dismiss a store manager following a series of complaints made by staff which were substantiated after the completion of an internal investigation. The case also highlights the benefits of engaging an experienced investigator when faced with multiple allegations of misconduct.

The manager ‘KS’ commenced employment with Coles in February 2015 and, until his dismissal in October 2021, was employed in the position of caretaking Store Manager at the Coles store in Caversham, a suburb in Perth, Western Australia.

In his position, he was the most senior manager on site.

On 6 August 2021, Coles received an anonymous complaint that KS had been giving preferential treatment to his wife, also employed at the store, in terms of rostering and starting and finishing times. Subsequently, between 19 August and 1 September 2021, a further four written complaints from employees were received containing a range of different allegations concerning KS.

The allegations included that KS had made inappropriate comments to staff members about their race, sexuality or gender identity, had sworn at staff and directed them to do personal tasks for him, threatened them if they complained about his behaviour, made disparaging comments regarding displays in the store to celebrate NAIDOC week, and separately to support members of the LGBTQI community.

Due to the breadth of complaints, Coles engaged an experience internal investigator to undertake the investigation. Despite KS’s complete denials of any wrongdoing and claims that certain staff had a vendetta against him, the investigator concluded that the majority of complaints were justified, leading to the decision by management to terminate his employment.

In assessing the evidence, Commissioner Bruce Williams reached a similar conclusion, determining that KS had, in fact:

  • Directed staff, on occasion, to change his wife’s contracted hours and shift arrangements to her and his benefit, contrary to his employer’s interests;

  • After being made aware of the names of complainants, he made threats to employees that he would take action against them and behaved aggressively towards them;

  • On several occasions, made comments to subordinate employees that were either racist, homophobic or transphobic;

  • Did not clock off as required when he left the store but instead required a subordinate employee to clock him off at the end of his shift time when he had, in fact, departed some time earlier; and

  • During the investigation, he ignored directions from the investigator and communicated with employees and managers inappropriately about matters under investigation.

As the Commissioner noted, “It is unnecessary to specifically identify which clauses in the respondent’s policies this conduct breached. Suffice to say the applicant, by his words and actions, had acted contrary to the requirements of Coles policies in many ways and on numerous occasions”.

Further, “His flagrant disregard for these policies in his interactions with his subordinates demonstrates he was not fit to be their manager”.

The unfair application was dismissed.

KS v Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Ltd (U2021/9435) 23 August 2022

For queries about managing performance, allegations, conducting investigations, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 1300 WAL LAW, 0417 622 178 or via email to dean.cameron@workforceadvisory.com.au

Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

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