Man wrongly fired for accessing swimsuit websites at work

The employee had not been given the opportunity to defend himself properly when it was discovered the dodgy websites had cropped up on his work computer. Photo / File
The employee had not been given the opportunity to defend himself properly when it was discovered the dodgy websites had cropped up on his work computer. Photo / File

An employee of a car dealership in Perth has received $25,000 in compensation after he was wrongly sacked for looking at pictures of swimwear models in their bikinis on company time.

Months beforehand, Gerard Roelofs, a financial controller at the Westcoast BMW dealership in the city's north, had admitted to accessing hardcore pornography on his work computer.

But an employment tribunal said Roelofs had not been given the opportunity to defend himself properly when it was later discovered websites featuring swimwear models had cropped up on his work computer.

In late 2014, accounts co-ordinator Jennifer Jeffrey, who reported to Roelofs, said she noticed her boss acting strangely when she entered his office.

"He would sometimes quickly click his computer mouse to apparently remove what he was viewing on his computer from the screen," Fair Work Commissioner Bruce Williams wrote in his report.

In early January 2015, Jeffrey went into Roelofs' office to do some filing.

"He came in and sat down on his computer while she was still in his office. As he opened up his computer screen an image could be seen of a naked woman sitting on a bed, apparently on a webcam.

"Ms Jeffrey's evidence was it was a very explicit image (and) Mr Roelofs quickly tried to minimise the web page."

While the accounts co-ordinator pretended not to see the page, she later snapped some pictures of her boss' browser history and took the evidence to the company's management.

In February, they issued Roelofs with a "first and final warning" for breaching the company's policy on internet use by accessing porn from his work computer on 33 occasions.

Roelofs admitted looking at the sites and "gave his word it would never happen again", the report said.

However, Jeffrey said she continued to feel "uncomfortable" around her boss, was seeing a doctor and a psychologist and thought "the company had not done enough".

When Roelofs wasn't in his office, she again looked at his browser history and, in June 2015, alleged a website called 'Wanderlust, wildly beautiful women in nature' which showed women in "lingerie, bikini and see through tops" had been viewed.

The company again looked into Roelofs' internet usage and found a number of pages in his history which, when opened, showed women in swimsuits. The dealership's manager, Darrin Brandon, said it appeared his employee had, "gone from looking at pornography to looking at lifestyle type stuff with women with little clothing on because he could no longer access pornography".

On 27 July, Roelofs was called to a meeting where he was told he was being sacked for further breaching the company's policies. Roelofs said, "I've been set up" and that he was shocked.

The company's IT records showed the sites were only accessed for less than five minutes on one day.

Nevertheless, the employment hearing heard that the financial controller was dismissed specifically for accessing a series of pages online showing women in bikinis and whether or not they were pornographic wasn't the issue - it was still an inappropriate use of company time and equipment.

However, Roelofs denied accessing any of the sites.

He argued that he was never told the full reason as to why he was dismissed, or the websites he was alleged to have accessed, and so was unable to properly respond.
In fact, he said, his computer had a virus which may have "randomly opened different pages".

Although Commissioner Williams said it was entirely possible someone else had opened the swimsuit pages on Roelofs' computer and even that a virus had been opening websites, on balance he was probably responsible for looking them up.

The pages were indeed inappropriate for work, he said, they did contravene the company's polices and Roelofs should have been on his best behaviour given he was one a "first and final warning".

But, the company had also mishandled his dismissal by denying him a clearer explanation of why he was sacked including detailing the websites he was alleged to have opened.
In effect, it was an "ambush" the report said.

Without a proper explanation, Roelofs was simply not in a position to argue his side of the story.

In awarding $25,341 in lost earnings, Commissioner Williams said, "Whilst in this case there was a valid reason for Mr Roelofs' dismissal Mr Brandon did not afford Mr Roelofs procedural fairness ... which possibly could have changed the final decision".


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