How One Man Managed To Skip Work Using Science And A Chip Packet

Tom Colella, an electrician from Perth, Australia, took skiving off work to new levels. On at least 140 separate occasions, he hid his company-mandated, GPS-enabled personal digital assistant (PDA) in an old packet of Twisties to keep his employers in the dark as to his real location.

And what's more, his employers appeared to know he kept his PDA safe in a chip packet and they chose to allow it. Colella's wily actions were only investigated after an anonymous tip-off claimed he had been out golfing when he should have been at work.

When Colella was let go from the company, he claimed unfair dismissal and the incident was put to the Fair Work Commission. 

Bernie Riordan, the commissioner involved in the case, wrote in his decision: "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... I cannot understand why Aroona condoned this practice but it clearly shows that Mr Colella did not want to be tracked."

Colella was able to turn his discarded chip packets into a fairly effective – if greasy – makeshift Faraday cage because the aluminum and mylar plastic in the foil makes it electrically conductive. This turns it into an electromagnetic shield that can block the relatively weak GPS signals coming from the device, thus keeping Colella's location a mystery. 

While Colella may have used his professional smarts to evade detection via GPS tracker, he let a number of things slip, which, ultimately, proved to be his undoing. For example, suspicions were raised when his name didn't turn up in his clients' access and gate logs.

According to the case report, "Mr Colella regularly works at the Neerabup Water Treatment Plant (NWTP). The NWTP is a fenced facility with an electronic gate. The gate logs at NWTP did not identify Mr Colella entering or leaving that facility on any of the identified days."

And every now and then he would take his PDA out of the chip bag, leaving GPS data confirming he was at home when he should have been working. Perhaps most damning, there were also instances when he didn't get the job done. 

"Aroona claimed that the Chlorine Analyser Records at NWTP show that Mr Colella did not perform the necessary tests and calibrations on the chlorine analysers. Aroona claim that Mr Colella’s actions resulted in a significant health hazard for the residents of Perth." 

Unsurprisingly, the commission chose to uphold the termination.

According to NPR, Colella is now working as an Uber driver. 

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