Breaching company policy can prove costly

Date: 2006
Author: Daniel A. Lublin
Publication: Metro
To the dismay of many employers, not all breaches of company policy will justify firing the responsible employee. However, as a Toronto area Longo’s grocery store recently learned, a little bit of yogurt and cream cheese can go a very long way.
Entrusted with important responsibilities as a grocery store manager, Ray Agosta regrettably took company policy into his own hands. Captured on security cameras and spotted by a loss prevention specialist, Agosta was caught taking five items to his car that he had not checked out of the store. However, when Agosta’s story for taking the items didn’t check out either, the cost to Agosta was more than just his bill for the food; he paid by losing his job too.
Agosta worked at a Toronto area Longo’s grocery store for nearly five years. Working his way up the ranks, he was eventually promoted to the position of dairy manager. But with Agosta’s newfound responsibilities came letdown. First, Agosta forgot to arm the store’s security system before leaving one night. Although this incident wasn’t seen as the reason for his dismissal, it certainly didn’t help him in the end. More significantly, Agosta was caught taking a few small items out of the store that he had not paid for. When questioned, he argued that some of the items were samples. However, even when taking samples from the store, company policy required all employees to seek permission from the store manager. Agosta wasn’t able to reasonably explain why he hadn’t asked for permission and therefore, Longo’s fired him for just cause.
At trial, Longo’s relied on its policies concerning removing items from the store, which stated that employees caught taking items without permission “will be subject to disciplinary action which may include termination, arrest and prosecution”. Further, it argued that even thought the amounts that Agosta took were minimal, like yogurt and cream cheese, loss prevention is taken very seriously in the grocery business and Agosta had known and adhered to its policies before. For his part, Agosta argued that Longo’s hadn’t followed its own policies consistently before and that as a result, he couldn’t be fired for breaching the policy.
In the end, the judge sided with Longo’s and found that Agosta knew, understood and consistently followed the policy to get a manager’s consent before taking any items from the store.
When it comes to a company policy, when can it be relied upon to terminate an employee? Generally, to justify firing an employee, employers have to show all of the following steps were met:
the rules must be distributed;
the rules must be known by the employees;
the rules must be clear and understandable;
the rules must be consistently enforced; and
employees must be warned that they will be terminated if a rule is breached.
As the case of Ray Agosta shows us, breaching company policy can have serious consequences when the policy is properly applied. For Agosta, it cost him his job.