Especially in retail, employees responsible for taking payments can come into contact with large sums of money. Employers therefore rely on being able to trust their employees. To protect employers, German employment law provides that employees who commit theft can be dismissed without notice.
Dismissal without notice for theft at work
Often, employees are not just trusted with the finances. They may also be given access to other valuable assets, such as product stocks.
As it is more difficult to discover missing products, it can often be more tempting for an employee to enrich themselves by taking one or the other product, than to take money from the cash register. The fact that product is missing may only be discovered by the employer at a later point in time, for example when a stock-take is conducted.
A particularly frequent case concerns the theft of cigarettes. The Hamm Regional Employment Tribunal recently had to judge such a case (judgment from 27.03.2014, case ref. 16 Sa 1629/13).
The leading employee of a company was filmed by the video surveillance system attempting to steal cigarettes. Following the incident, the employee was dismissed without notice. The employee repeatedly denied the theft. However, the Regional Court confirmed that the dismissal was effective.
No doubt as to theft
The employee, who fulfilled duties as an assistant to the company management, had been asked to replace a defective neon light. During the activity, the employee intentionally moved the camera to such an angle that the cash desk was not completely visible. In addition, a large cardboard box was placed in the cash desk area to further impede the camera’s vision. Nevertheless, the camera filmed cigarettes being placed into a container and handed to a third person. The court held the employee’s contentions to be inconclusive and despite him protesting his innocence, upheld the dismissal without notice.
The judges found that the camera had been intentionally moved. The fact that the employee contradicted himself when giving evidence also supported the conclusion.
German employment law and theft at work
This judgment confirms the near-consistent case law, under which theft or attempted theft entitles an employer to dismiss and employee without notice. It is even irrelevant that the employment relationship may have existed without problems for years. A single act of employee misconduct is sufficient to breach the duty of mutual trust between the parties. In such cases it is considered unreasonable to expect the employer to continue working with the employee. This is particularly the case where employees are entrusted with handling company money or products.