Two cleaners have lost their unfair dismissal claim after being sacked for ‘time theft’.
The pair are among a group of cleaners sacked for spending extended periods of time sitting in a tea room, instead of working.
Cleaners spent significant time in tea room
Shokry Milad and Medhat Botros worked at Royal Melbourne Hospital since 2003 and 2001 respectively.
Their jobs involved cleaning the hospital’s operating theatres.
In July 2019, a supervisor emailed the Support Services Manager advising him that she had seen a number of his staff in the dark in a tea room not working for an hour or more.
The relevant enterprise agreement only allows for a 30-minute meal break.
A subsequent review of CCTV footage showed 19 cleaners spending significant periods of time in the tea room from 9-15 July when they should have been on duty.
As a result, the hospital suspended all 19 cleaners and commenced an investigation.
That investigation resulted in the dismissal of 11 of the workers for serious misconduct, including Milad and Botros.
The hospital issued written warnings to the rest.
CCTV footage damning
The pair filed an unfair dismissal claim in the Fair Work Commission, however, the CCTV footage was damning.
It showed Milad in the tea room for:
- 3 hours and 26 minutes on 9 July 2019,
- 3 hours on 11 July 2019
- and 3 hours and 50 minutes on 12 July 2019.
In total, between 9-15 July, Milad spent 44 percent of his time in the tea room not working.
Additionally, the footage showed Botros in the tea room for:
- 1 hour and 41 minutes on 10 July 2019,
- 25 minutes on 1 July 2019
- and 51 minutes on 16 July 2019.
The hospital told the Commission it regarded this conduct as “time theft”.
Commission finds ‘time theft’ is serious misconduct
Milad and Botros claimed the hospital treated them differently to the other workers who did not lose their job, making their dismissal unfair.
However, Commissioner Nicholas Wilson found insufficient evidence to support this claim.
He said he was unable to find they were treated differently to other employees or that such different treatment would render their dismissals unfair.
Additionally, he accepted they had spent the time in the tea room when they were rostered to work.
Therefore, he found the hospital had a valid reason for dismissal, and that their conduct constituted serious misconduct.
Furthermore, Mr Wilson described Milad’s misconduct as aggravated due to occasionally being allocated supervisory duties.
Mr Wilson also noted that the workers were responsible for cleaning trauma theatres and the hospital had repeatedly failed cleaning audits in this area.
‘Time theft’ is theft
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan says the case is a warning to all employees.
“We’ve all heard about wage theft, but this is time theft, and it’s theft,” he said.
“Consequently, employees who deliberately don’t work for extended periods but continue to claim wages will lose their job.”
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