The double-storey KFC outlet in Sarnia, where 11 workers were dismissed over stock theft. Photo: Gcina Ndwalane

Durban - The concept of “team misconduct” has been thrown into the spotlight with a Durban Labour Court finding that it was lawful to fire 11 people working on the same shift at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet because of “astonishing” stock losses.

Their dismissal followed the loss of 245 pieces of chicken and 63kg of chips in just three days.

Previously, in just two shifts, 424 cans of cold drink and 518 cans of juice had disappeared.

But no-one would admit to seeing anything or having anything to do with the theft.

In his recent judgment Acting Judge Piet Shai said True Blue Foods, trading as KFC in Sarnia, had hired the staff members in December 2009 in various capacities, such as cooks, “expeditors” and cashiers to work the late shift from 3pm until 10 pm.

The stock losses began immediately and management tried to curtail this by locking the freezers, storerooms, the interlinking door at the drive-through section and the walk-in coolers.

A security guard was hired to patrol the double-storey restaurant and to search employees’ bags, CCTV cameras were installed in various sections, and a new computer system was installed to capture all activities at the till.

Employees were warned that there was a “zero tolerance” policy towards theft and they were responsible for the stock during their shift.

But the stock losses costing between R80 000 and R120 000 a month continued unabated.

New supervisors and managers were hired and even more stock handling measures implemented. But, True Blue said, it could not constantly keep an eye on everyone, the storerooms and all the fridges.

Once, through CCTV footage, it identified two cashiers failing to ring up certain items, but going through all the footage to check on every cashier was an “impossible task”, the company said.

Hundreds of cold drinks, juices and pieces of chicken were going missing on single shifts - always when the same team was working.

In May 2010, employees were again warned that disciplinary action would be taken if the theft did not stop and, after monitoring losses over three days, the employees were called in and given an opportunity to give information.

None took up the offer.

A disciplinary inquiry was held, they were all dismissed and the problem with stock was immediately resolved.

But the employees went to the CCMA where a commissioner ruled their dismissal to be unfair, saying the company had not proved they were responsible for the theft, or knew who was.

He ordered the company to pay six months’ compensation to each of them.

The company took this on review to the Labour Court, arguing the principle of “team misconduct”.

The judge said, as with the principle of “common cause purpose”, there was no need to prove individual guilt.

“It is sufficient that the individual is a member of a team which has failed to meet its obligations, in this case to ensure there were no stock losses. They were given an opportunity to come clean, but did not,” he said, setting aside the CCMA award and ordering the former employees to pay the costs of the review application.

The Mercury