Former Toops manager awarded $22,575

Last updated 12:00 22/01/2014

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The former manager of Toops in Palmerston North has been awarded $22,575 after being wrongly dismissed for misusing company money, despite admitting he had been careless with the business's reimbursement system.

Christopher Menear-Gist was hired by Toops in 2010, and was quickly promoted to the position of branch manager.

By September 2012, Toops had merged with supermarket giant Foodstuffs.

A month later, an employee told Foodstuffs operations manager Derek Tunui they were worried Mr Menear-Gist was improperly using company money.

The person, who has not been named, said Mr Menear-Gist was claiming for meals, coffee and a valet service to clean his car - matters the person said fell outside of company policy.

However, nothing was done until another person went to Mr Tunui in July 2013 with documents they believed showed Mr Menear-Gist was using money improperly.

Mr Tunui then told Mr Menear-Gist there would be an investigation, and suspended him on full pay.

Auditors were called in to go over the history of certain accounts, and reports were given to Foodstuffs.

The reports said it was not possible to tell if spending by Mr Menear-Gist constituted a breach, due to inadequate detail in regard to the spending.

Mr Tunui proceeded to invoke disciplinary procedures, citing serious misconduct as a reason.

Mr Menear-Gist was dismissed in September 2013 for serious misconduct, and he went to the Employment Relations Authority.

He said he had been told to use his own eftpos card for expenses before claiming, and that all claims were work-related and Mr Tunui knew what he claimed for.

He admitted he had been careless with some claims, as he had claimed twice for some items.

However, he said all his receipts were accounted for and given to accountants to correct.

In his judgment, authority member Paul Stapp said the fact the audit report was inconclusive meant Mr Menear-Gist should not have been dismissed.

He had not tried to hide any of his spending, Mr Stapp said.

He said because there was no written proof of the funds being used inappropriately, and no proof Mr Menear-Gist's actions constituted serious misconduct, he should never have been fired.

But Mr Menear-Gist's request to be reinstated at Toops was not granted, because it was obvious there would be serious trust issues between him and Mr Tunui, Mr Stapp said.

Mr Menear-Gist was awarded $15,575 in lost wages, $7000 in compensation and an unstated amount in costs.

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- Manawatu Standard

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