Any employment lawyer, or indeed anyone working in HR, will know that when an employer wishes to terminate an employee they must not only prove the dismissal was fair, i.e. that there was a legitimate reason justifying the dismissal but that the employer has also followed a full and fair process in effecting the dismissal. That means, even if an employer is of the belief that an employee has stolen from them it doesn’t matter how small or big, if an employer does not follow fair procedures in effecting the dismissal, the dismissal will be deemed unfair and an employee will most likely receive some sort of an award from the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) / Labour Court.
While in this case it would seem initially that the damage to the company was quite small - the employee drank part of a soft drink worth less than €2 without paying for it, and then left it back on a crate to go out for delivery - the ramifications for the employer was much larger. For example, if a customer of the employer had received a half drank can that would automatically make them consider what else is damaged in the order, wanting to return the order and requesting their money back, and the domino effect continues.
So the €2 can is never insignificant, every business now thrives on excellent customer service, reliability and high standard of product. If a company cannot stand over these points, then the credibility of the business could be called into question, therefore damaging its profitability.
I certainly agree with the Adjudication Officer and indeed the employer in this case, that the act itself was gross misconduct. It is also great to see that the employer here did not act hastily and move straight away to dismiss the employee. Instead they followed a full disciplinary process, starting with the investigation right up to the appeal stage of the disciplinary process. The employee was given every opportunity to have his side of the story heard, including allowing his appeal, which in turn worked out for the employer.
If anything, this case is a clear lesson that crossing the t's and dotting the i's will go a long way in ensuring a full defence to an unfair dismissal case. It certainly paid off for this employer to take a calm and thorough approach to the issue, rather than acting in haste and automatically dismissing someone without giving any further thought to the matter.
In the case, WRC Adjudication Officer, Roger McGrath found that the worker on 14 February 2017 took a soft drink from a pallet in the warehouse and consumed half the contents of the bottle before putting it back on the pallet. McGrath agreed with the employer that the worker’s actions “has constituted gross misconduct irrespective of the monetary value”.