Woolies' dismissal of HR officer that breached 'honesty policy' holds up in court

The employee was dismissed after trying to get herself a R35 discount for a pack of meat.

The Sunday Times recently broke a story about an HR officer at Woolworths who lost her job for trying to manipulate the company's discount policy for her own gain. Fundiswa Mlotha had been fired from one of the retailer’s Milnerton branches in Cape Town for trying to engineer an R35.51 discount on a pack of beef for herself and, three years later, she has now failed her latest attempt to get her job back.

Having lost her case at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), she went to the Cape Town Labour Court, where it was revealed that she tried to exploit Woolies' policy of reducing the prices of items approaching their sell-by date. 

"CCTV footage showed her retrieving (a pack of beef valued at R115), asking a shelf-filler to place a “30 percent off” sticker on it and putting it into her shopping basket,” reads the news report. 

The reason for Fundiswa’s dismal was said to be her ‘breach of the honesty code of practice,’ which is to be ‘to be met with instant dismissal.

The story raises questions on whether HR professionals are trained enough on the subject of ethics. There are countless news reports pointing the finger at HR professionals for unethical behaviour.  Earlier this year, a recruitment administration clerk within the SAPS Giyani Cluster was allegedly arrested for demanding a R10 000 bribe from an applicant in order to process an application. 

Meanwhile, the Cape Town City council is still engaged in a fresh fight over a “jobs for pals” scandal where allegations of “nepotism and abuse of power” have been leaked to the media and irate workers and opposition political parties are pressing the DA-led council to take action against implicated officials.

This latest story shows that the ethics issue in HR is not one that is exclusive to the public sector. However, with Woolies having sacked an employee for less than R40, there does seem to be a willingness on their behalf to hold their HR employees to a higher ethical standard.