Employee fired after 'one for road' turns into highway robbery
A marketing manager who helped himself to booze from his firm's honesty bar and took it home because he was told to "have one for the road" has been dismissed.
A recent ruling by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) said Dräger SA - which makes breathalysers, among other things - was within its rights to fire the manager, named only as Mr Mhlanga.
The commission heard that the company received an anonymous tip-off in February that several employees had been seen stealing "excessive amounts of booze from the honesty bar and taking it home".
CCTV footage from the canteen and braai areas confirmed this and Mhlanga and others were suspended and charged with theft and dishonesty.
Mhlanga, who had been hired in January, was fired in March.
Dräger's finance manager, Jac Adams, told the CCMA that it was customary for staff to have a few drinks on a Friday after work.
On one such occasion early in January he told colleagues to take "one for the road" - he himself had taken two bottles of beer - but he did not intend for them to empty the fridge, "taking 20 beers, five bottles of brandy and wine" - nor that they could help themselves every Friday.
It was not the culture for people to take alcohol home, he said, and it was clear that the employees concerned had been "stealing" otherwise they would have done it openly.
The CCTV footage showed clips of Mhlanga putting beers into his backpack, going outside, and then coming back and taking more beers before heading to the parking lot.
In his defence, Mhlanga said it was unfair that he was fired whereas another employee who took liquor had been given only a final written warning.
But the company said this man had only done so once and was "very apologetic and remorseful". He admitted he knew it was wrong but had been influenced by others.
Mhlanga, on the other hand, had helped himself on numerous occasions and on his own accord.
Another company employee said that when he saw Mhlanga "bagging alcohol" he had reminded him about the surveillance camera.
Mhlanga argued that it was not possible to steal something offered for free and there was no difference between consuming something at the canteen or at home.
"The rule was not clear," he said. "Everyone who utilised the bar would either drink there or some would take one or two for the road. This looked like the norm," he said.
He told the CCMA he had pleaded guilty to the charge of theft but said he was "emotional and confused on the day of the [disciplinary] hearing".
The commission said Mhlanga was "clutching at straws".
"It would be difficult to restore any employment relationship as trust is of critical importance. His conduct went to the heart of the employment relationship, deserving the severest sanction."