A bus driver sacked for allegedly stealing loose change has been awarded more than $14,000 in compensation.
Maria Kolo’ofai was dismissed as a casual driver for Dunedin Passenger Transport after a passenger on the Northeast Valley route wrote to the company last August raising questions about her handling of a fare.
The complainant said the driver took another passenger’s fare, which had been paid in small denominations, but was not seen to sort it into her cash box. The complainant questioned where the change had gone.
Company director Kayne Baas arranged a disciplinary meeting with Ms Kolo’ofai the following day, at which she denied taking the money.
She was dismissed later that day in a letter from Mr Baas that said management had lost all trust and confidence in her.
Mr Baas noted Ms Kolo’ofai had earlier been dismissed for theft and had been warned her job was her “last chance to be honest and stay employed as a bus driver in Dunedin”.
She had previously been sacked from Citibus, which was later bought by Mr Baas’ company, for “selling canaries” – a practice in which drivers resell used tickets to passengers and keep the fare for themselves.
Giving evidence at an Employment Relations Authority (ERA) hearing, Mr Baas said he had taken Ms Kolo’ofai on board to “wipe the slate clean”.
But he decided she had stolen the money because it was rare to receive complaints from passengers and there was no reason to disbelieve the account given.
It emerged a day or two after Ms Kolo’ofai was sacked that the complainant was the partner of another driver who had a negative attitude towards her, and the complaint may have been malicious.
Mr Baas subsequently talked to the complainant and the other driver and satisfied himself there was no bias.
Ms Kolo’ofai was not told the name of the complainant until after she had been sacked, and was therefore unable to draw on that at her disciplinary hearing.
ERA member David Appleton found the company’s investigation into the allegations was insufficient, and there was insufficient evidence that to conclude Ms Kolo’ofai had stolen any money.
He found she had been unjustifiably dismissed and ordered the company pay $6949.28 in lost wages and $7500 for humiliation, loss of dignity and hurt feelings.
But Mr Appleton denied Ms Kolo’ofai reinstatement, noting she had pleaded guilty to eight counts of benefit fraud in 2010, which was not disclosed to the company when she was hired last June and was cause for concern.