Electorate Officer’s abuse of leave entitlements justified dismissal
The Public Service Appeal Board has dismissed an Electorate Officer’s appeal against a decision terminating her employment for misconduct.
The Electorate Officer was a long-standing employee of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, employed as an Electorate Officer in the Kwinana Electorate Officer of MLA Roger Cook. Over about 4 years, she travelled overseas with her family to Europe, Bali and Vietnam, whilst being paid wages. She was also away from the workplace for 8 work-days while she was in hospital.
The Board found that the Electorate Officer was not entitled to be paid when not at work, unless she was exercising a right to take annual leave or personal leave, in accordance with the applicable industrial award or industrial agreement. The Electorate Officer had not applied for annual leave for her overseas travel. Instead, she either did not apply for leave at all, or applied for personal leave. When the Electorate Officer applied for personal leave for her time in hospital, she only applied for 2 days’ leave, not 8.
The Board found that the Electorate Officer’s overseas trips were holidays, and the circumstances in which they were taken did not entitle her to personal leave. She ought to have applied for annual leave, but did not do so. As a result she was paid wages while she was not at work, without any deduction from her annual leave accrual. That conduct amounted to the dishonest receipt of benefits which the Electorate Officer was not entitled to receive. It was therefore misconduct, justifying dismissal.
Similarly, by applying for only 2 days’ personal leave when the Electorate Officer was actually in hospital for 8 working days, the Electorate Officer was again paid for days she was not at work or working, without deduction from her leave accruals. This was also an abuse of leave entitlements, which amounted to misconduct.
The Electorate Officer alleged that the MLA for whom she worked knew where she was at all times, and approved her absences. She said her access to leave was consistent with informal procedures. The Board said that whether or not misconduct occurred does not depend on proof of a contravention of a policy or procedure, whether it be formal or informal. The real question is whether the employee acted knowingly and dishonestly by claiming benefits that she was not entitled to receive. An employee’s duty of fidelity and good faith is fundamental to employment. Dishonestly receiving unearned benefits is inimical to this duty.
The Board also noted that the MLA’s approval of an absence from work was not the same as authorising the payment of benefits that the Electorate Officer was not entitled to receive, nor did it authorise the lack of a deduction from the appropriate leave accrual.
The Board found that the employee knew that by not submitting the correct leave application forms, she would receive payment of salary as if she was working, and that she knew she improperly benefited from her conduct. The purpose of personal leave and the need for submitting correct and accurate application forms had been explained to her by Human Resources in the past, including when past overpayments were recouped from her.
Accordingly, the Board concluded the Electorate Officer had engaged in deliberate misconduct justifying her dismissal. It referred to previous cases establishing that misuse of sick leave constitutes misconduct sufficient to justify termination of employment. It dismissed the Electorate Officer’s appeal.
The decision can be read here.