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A six-year legal battle between Pick n Pay and a former staffer, who was fired for trying to refund chocolates she had been gifted by a customer, has finally come to an end with the Labour Appeal Court ruling in favour of the retailer.
In 2014, Yoliswa Maluleke was dismissed from her position as an e-service manager at the Gezina Pick n Pay in Pretoria – after 24 years of service to the company – after an elderly customer bought her and a colleague three boxes of chocolates valued at a total of R104.
After the customer left, Maluleke processed a refund and then called her manager to authorise it. He, however, refused, citing company policies which required that refunds be authorised and then processed. Maluleke ended up being dismissed for contravening the company rules around refunds, attempting to defraud her employer and using a colleague’s password to reverse the refund after her manager refused to authorise it.
Maluleke’s attempts to challenge her dismissal at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) were unsuccessful but on appeal, the Labour Court found in her favour and remitted the case back to the CCMA for a fresh hearing.
Her victory was, however, short-lived. Pick n Pay took the case to the Labour Appeal Court, where the CCMA’s original findings were last week upheld. On her version, Maluleke wanted to exchange her chocolates for tissue paper and her colleague wanted to swap his for maize meal.
But Acting Deputy Judge President Violet Phatshoane, with two judges concurring, didn’t buy her story. Phatshoane found there were “various elements of deceit” to Maluleke’s conduct and that she had been “less than frank” in her account of what had transpired that day. She also shot down Maluleke’s argument that no refund was actually issued.
“The refusal by the store manager to authorise the transaction stopped her in her tracks,” Phatshoane said. Of Maluleke’s long-standing service to Pick n Pay, Phatshoane said while this was a “weighty factor”, the court had to “strike a balance between the period of service; the gravity of the misconduct; and its impact on the employment relationship”.
Phatshoane found the transgressions were “of a serious nature” and had “destroyed the relationship of trust”.
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