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Failure to Explain Suspicious Activity is Cause for Dismissal
January 21, 2009

The BC Supreme Court recently ruled that an employee who failed to provide his employer with a complete explanation of his conduct after being accused of theft was properly terminated for just cause.

The plaintiff was an assistant manager at Safeway. He was accused of theft when a number of co-workers observed him placing groceries into a bag and apparently leaving the store without paying for them. He was informed of the accusations and interviewed by management.

The employee adamantly denied stealing. However, he did not provide any explanation for the suspicious activities observed by co-workers. After the interview, he was suspended pending further investigation. After completing its investigation, Safeway terminated his employment for cause.

At trial, the plaintiff was able to provide a legitimate explanation for his activities on the night in question. Because no co-worker could verify that the plaintiff took any merchandise and Safeway could not establish any merchandise was missing, the court determined that the evidence was insufficient to support the accusation of theft.

However, the court went on to find that the plaintiff was obliged to provide his employer an explanation for his suspicious conduct when questioned about it. His failure to do so was a breach of the implied duty of honesty and faithfulness to the employer and constituted just cause for his dismissal.

This case is a reminder that, when interviewing employees, what the employee does not say can be just as important as what the employee does disclose to the employer. Where an employee, who may be innocent of any wrongdoing, fails to fully explain his conduct, such behaviour may be grounds for termination of employment for just cause.

Obeng v. Canada Safeway Limited, 2009 BCSC 8