Receptionist stole more than $100k

03:09, May 21 2014

A receptionist who stole more than $100,000 from the medical centre she worked at has been ordered to pay the money back with interest.

And in making the order, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) also rejected her personal grievance claim.

Bernadine Hull became the practice manager of the Papakura East Medical Centre in May 2001, where her duties included managing the practice's finances, including reconciliations and the banking, the ERA decision released today said.

Dr Bernard Holmes and Dr Dean Mackay became aware of discrepancies between the cash and cheque receipts recorded on the practice's computerised patient management programme, and the money being banked by Hull.

They commissioned Deloitte to undertake a two-week forensic audit of the practice, during which four video cameras were installed in the office by private investigators, without the employees' knowledge, the report said.

The audit and investigation identified Hull as being responsible for the missing money, which the ERA found she probably took home, later mixing the practice's money with her own without keeping a proper record.

Video footage recorded during the investigation showed Hull retrieving a white envelope containing money from the area of the office where the banking bag was kept, which she took home and claimed was subsequently lost or mislaid there.

At the end of the audit, a shortfall of $1165.50 was found between the money counted and photographed each evening, and the money deposited by Hull.

Evidence to the ERA from accountants for both Hull and the doctors, showed there was a total of $157,816 missing from 2001, when Hull was promoted to the role of practice manager.

Hull's behaviour in her role, activity recorded on the CCTV footage, and management of the cash for the practice "left her as the only person responsible" for taking the missing money, the ERA found.

She was relied on and trusted to honestly handle all money belonging to the practice, but over time, probably took advantage of her employer's poor accounting records and cash-handling system where there was inadequate monitoring and controls, the ERA said.

Despite funds being missing from as far back as 2001, the ERA held the claim could only be made from six years before the filing of the statement of the problem on July 1, 2013, due to the limitation period on a claim for recovery.

The sum missing from July 1, 2007 until July 12, 2012 was determined to be $103,378.42.

Hull was ordered to pay Holmes and Mackay that amount, plus an additional $4432.53 as interest, and $12,029.23 for the cost of the audit and the investigation.

Hull's personal grievance claim for constructive dismissal and unjustified disadvantage simultaneously that was heard before the ERA failed.

She had taken leave after becoming aware a patient made a threat to "bash" her during the time the financial investigation was taking place.

Hull was advised of the investigation into the practice's finances when she returned to work, and decided to resign. The ERA held the patient's threat was not enough for her to resign over and claim constructive dismissal, and her claim of an unsafe work environment lacked supporting evidence.

The doctors had investigated the threat, concluding it would not be carried out, and the patient was not an ongoing risk, the ERA said.

Hull's claim for unjustified disadvantage based on what she claimed were false allegations against her also failed.

Hull's employers also had an honestly held belief about her conduct and behaviour, and were entitled to investigate the serious matter of alleged misappropriation of funds based on information available to them at the time, the ERA found.