The Cardinal Workplace Sin: A Notable Case in Point

Written by Daniel Standing LL.B., Editor, First Reference Inc.

Don’t steal. Don’t steal. Don’t steal. It’s a short but super-important mantra that every employee with access to their employer’s money (and those who don’t) should live by. 2023 BCSC 892 (CanLII) illustrates the anti-theft message in a hyperbolic way. To quickly illustrate: the opening three sentences of this article were 882 reminders short for the employee in this case. It seems she was a compulsive thief over her six-year tenure, to the tune of over $1.9 million. It’s hard to say if the defendant will ever see the money it’s owed. After all, the employee said she’d gambled it all away, and it’s probably safe to assume she’ll never re-earn the money she pilfered.

How you might wonder, did she pull it off? It’s best explained in the brief decision, but essentially, she had four ways of manipulating accounts and pulling strings behind the scenes to her massive personal benefit. Her opportunity came by virtue of her position and her intimate knowledge of the system as a payroll supervisor.

The court’s decision – a slam-dunk for the employer – was given following an application for summary determination by the employer against the employee for fraud, conversion, and deceit. It also sought and was granted interest, punitive damages (of $100,000), and special damages. The employee had no viable defence; she talked about her victimization in the workplace and allegations that were unrelated to the issue at hand.

How can employers protect themselves? If an ounce of prevention is the best cure, then maybe some oversight or spot audits could be done. But misconduct of this sort is notoriously hard to catch, and employers must be able to trust their employees not to steal their employers’ time or assets. As in this case, a good forensic accounting expert can help unravel the twisted threads of a fraud scheme and provide crucial evidence to support a disciplinary measure.

In a sense, there is no winner in a case like this. Employers and employees alike can learn from it and take away the lesson that when an employee in a position of trust breaches that confidence in an egregious way, the effects can last a lifetime.

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