Dismissal For Not Paying For a Cup of Tea Upheld

In this appeal (UD 826/2013) against a previous Rights Commissioner Recommendation the employee’s dismissal whilst deemed to be harsh was not held to be unfair as per the Unfair Dismissal Acts

The appellant worked for Marks & Spencer and made and drank a cup of tea behind the cafe counter and did not paid for it. This was strictly against Company Policy and was seen on the CCTV and resulted in an investigation which then progressed to a disciplinary hearing with dismissal being the outcome.

What is interesting about the decision of the EAT not to grant the employee’s appeal is that despite highlighting a number of procedural errors in how the investigation and disciplinary processes were carried out, they still determined the dismissal not to be unfair. Errors included not making it clear at both the disciplinary and investigation stages what the specific allegations were and what evidence was available as well as not pointing out to the employee the dishonesty/forgery section of the employee handbook that they were relying on. Furthermore the manager who initiated the investigation on the basis of the CCTV evidence then conducted the disciplinary hearing.

Notwithstanding that these procedural errors occurred the EAT ultimately rejected the employee’s appeal because the Company had a clear zero tolerance policy on theft regardless of the form and the actual value.   This policy was well known to all employees and the appellant took a risk when she decided to have a drink and not pay for it….. turning out to be a very costly cup of tea for her.

Lessons for Employers:

With the number of procedural errors that had occurred in this case it is very possible that the employee would have won her appeal if the Company did not have a clear policy in place on theft. 

Once again the importance of having clear policies and procedures in the workplace is highlighted and if standards are clearly communicated to staff it is much easier to deal with breaches in a fair and consistent manner (albeit harsh in the circumstances of this particular case).