How a missing laptop cost one employer $25k

Employers often feel that they are well within their rights to dismiss an employee who has been caught on camera stealing from the workplace. While employee theft is certainly a valid reason for dismissal, recent cases demonstrate how jumping to conclusions can end up costing you thousands.

Conducting a reasonable workplace investigation is crucial to dealing with allegations of serious misconduct, even when such allegations are supported by compelling evidence.


In a case before the Fair Work Commission earlier this year one employer was ordered to pay a former truck driver more than $25,000 compensation after it relied on ‘flimsy’ CCTV footage in dismissing him for serious misconduct.

The employee was accused of stealing a laptop that went undelivered to a Harvey Norman store. According to the employer, CCTV footage showed that the driver’s behaviour and general manner was ‘suspect’ while he was handling the missing package. The employer believed that the worker had stolen the laptop and he was subsequently dismissed for serious misconduct.

In bringing a claim for unfair dismissal, the driver argued that he should have been shown the CCTV footage as part of the investigation process. The Commission agreed, finding that the employer had speculated in relying solely on the CCTV footage and that there was in fact ‘no clear or cogent evidence’ that the laptop had been stolen by the driver.

How to conduct a workplace investigation

You should always conduct an objective workplace investigation in dealing with any allegation of serious misconduct. Employers are strongly urged to adopt the following process:

Step 1: Formulate the allegation that is to be tested

You may be required to first speak to the complainant to gather further details or simply narrow the nature of the allegation based on what, when and how the misconduct allegedly occurred.

Step 2: Gather any supporting evidence which may be available

This generally involves speaking to any available witnesses, as well as reviewing any CCTV footage so as to gather as much supporting evidence as possible. You must remember that this evidence merely supports the case against the employee. It is never conclusive, no matter how strong you believe it to be.

Step 3: Provide the employee with an opportunity to respond

In the interests of procedural fairness, you should put the allegation and any supporting evidence to the employee and consider his or her response.

Step 4: Where appropriate, take disciplinary action

Disciplinary action may range from a verbal warning, to a formal written warning, to termination of employment. You must ensure that any disciplinary action which is taken, is ‘reasonable’ and ‘proportionate’ to the employee’s misconduct.

For more information regarding workplace investigations please contact the HR Assured team on 02 9083 0083 or fill out an online contact form and we’ll call you back.