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Foil snack food bags make a decent Faraday cage, judge finds

Chap kept his work PDA in one, slacked off, played golf, lost job, appealed, failed to get job back

An Australian electrician has failed in an effort to regain his job after a judge ruled he hid a work-issued GPS-equipped PDA in a foil snack food bag to avoid being tracked.

Mr Tom Colella claimed he was unfairly dismissed from his job as an electrician, after someone ratted him out to the boss for playing golf during working hours.

His employer, Aroona P&T, required staff to carry a GPS-equipped PDA used to log jobs. When the company investigated the claim of goofing off for golf, it found Collela's security access card had not been used on sites where he was expected to work. It also found “Mr Colella’s PDA GPS co-ordinates identified him being at home rather than at the appropriate worksite for the task that he claims he was undertaking.”

Mobile phone records were inconclusive because while Colella's handset pinged towers near the jobs he was supposed to do, some of those towers were within range of his home.

Colella was called in for a meeting at which evidence of his absences was presented, but disputed the facts.

He was nonetheless dismissed, then took himself off to employment tribunal Fair Work Australia.

That body's decision [PDF] found he was not unfairly dismissed because, in part, Colella openly stored his PDA in an empty bag of “Twisties”, an Australian snack food.*

Twisties ship in a foil bag and Fair Work's Commissioner Reardon found that “As an experienced electrician, Mr Colella knew that this bag would work as a Faraday cage, thereby preventing the PDA from working properly – especially the provision of regular GPS co-ordinate updates.”

“I note that Mr Colella’s supervisors knew that he placed his PDA in the foil bag and that they should have known the effect that this action would have on the PDA device,” Reardon's decision stated.

Reardon assessed plenty of evidence about the accuracy of phone tower call records, GPS glitches, whether Colella produced some documents only after learning their absence looked suspicious and plenty more.

While Reardon found that “Mr Colella went out of his way to hide his whereabouts [and] to inhibit the functionality of the PDA by placing it in a foil bag to create a Faraday Cage” the decisive factor was phone calls he didn't make. The decision found that Colella recorded his presence on sites from which he was require to call the office, but no calls were made from his phone on those dates.

The Commissioner therefore concluded that Colella had not worked on three days, and that doing so justified his dismissal.

Colella is now an Uber driver. ®

* Twisties are a slurry of corn and rice that's extruded into wriggly little bite-sized pieces, baked, oiled, then tumbled in some bright yellow stuff that can legally be described as cheese flavouring. The result is crunchy, salty, oily, delicious and probably lethal in large doses taken across decades. They're a lot like Cheetos. Only better.

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