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Bank manager resigned amid claims of fraud, bullying

A former bank manager's unfair dismissal claim has been dismissed by the Fair Work Commission.
A former bank manager's unfair dismissal claim has been dismissed by the Fair Work Commission. Keagan Elder

A BANK manager who was about to get the boot for bullying was asked to explain herself over claims she'd fiddled with a customer's interest rates.

Instead of responding to those claims, however, she quit.

The Sarina bank manager of 38 years then challenged her former employer for unfair dismissal - a claim the Fair Work Commission has dismissed.

While National Australia Bank believed Valmai Hardwick had been fraudulently reducing a customer's interest rates for at least six months, she never responded to those claims, instead resigning three days later, the Fair Work Commission heard.

And while the bank was investigating the 6-7 months of rate reductions for one customer, Mrs Hardwick's days at NAB were already numbered, with the bank finding her actions in two bullying incidents within four months, with no fewer than eight witnesses to them, were "sufficiently serious to warrant termination".

Mrs Hardwick's union representative told her the bank planned to fire her and Mrs Hardwick claimed to have been told if she didn't resign she would lose her long service leave; this was the reason she gave for resigning.

NAB argued Mrs Hardwick had not been told she would lose her long service leave entitlements and had resigned to avoid responding to the allegations of fraudulent behaviour.

NAB workplace relations consultant Daniel Tawadros gave evidence to the Commission that on June 1, 2016, "NAB became aware that Mrs Hardwick appeared to be manipulating the (bank's) customer database on a regular basis to apply interest rate reductions to a particular customer without proper authorisation for the rate reductions".

"Mrs Hardwick was performing manual price reductions for a particular customer on a monthly basis for approximately 6-7 months without approval," Fair Work Commissioner Paula Spencer's notes stated. "Mrs Hardwick was attempting to conceal her actions."

NAB had asked her to respond to these allegations on June 6 when they met with her, but she didn't because she was sick, which was supported by a medical certificate as evidence, the Commissioner's notes said.

Mrs Hardwick resigned three days later.

Mr Tawadros, in his evidence, said, "As Mrs Hardwick had not responded to the fraud allegations, that was not considered as part of the decision to terminate the employment."

This decision had been made based on the two bullying allegations, he said.

Mrs Hardwick had a red flag on her employment record from an investigation into her bullying in February 2016 and NAB formed the view that her conduct "was sufficiently serious to warrant termination and that NAB would be terminating Mrs Hardwick's employment" after a second bullying allegation was investigated in May 2016, Mr Tawadros said in his statement to the Commission.

He also told the Commission that Mrs Hardwick's union representative had been told on June 8 or June 9 that "if tendered, Mrs Hardwick's resignation would be accepted" and by 6pm on June 9 her resignation letter had been emailed into the bank.

"I hereby tender my resignation from NAB," the email, which was given as evidence to the Commission, read. "I have been blessed with an amazing journey over 38 years and have many fond memories of amazing staff and customers that I will treasure forever."

On August 3 Mrs Hardwick lodged an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission.

Mrs Hardwick told the Commission she hadn't been going to resign but had been told she would lose her long service leave if she was fired. She claimed that if she had not been told she was going to be fired she would not have resigned, as she had demonstrated by expressing her desire to improve her communication with staff in response to the second bullying allegation.

"I would like to confirm that after 38 years I have always tried my best to treat all my staff fairly and I apologise if my communication style was taken out of context or offended anyone," her response read. "Obviously with the current pressures and 'new to role' staff, I can see that effective communication is something I need to work on. I am always working on my development and believe moving forward, an action plan be implemented to create the workplace that we can all participate equally in."

In her decision, handed down on January 19, the Commissioner said Mrs Hardwick had brought her employment contract to an end instead of responding to the fraud allegations.

"If the allegations of improperly changing interest rates were proven, it is unlikely the applicant, who was the branch manager, would have succeeded in her merits case," Ms Spencer said. "The applicant did not use the opportunity to respond to the allegations but instead resigned."

She found Mrs Hardwick resigned on her own volition and dismissed her claim.

Topics:  business fair work commission mackay nab sarina