IKEA ordered to pay £23,000 in compensation to an employee who made a 97p mistake
Mr Fortune (The Claimant), an employee of IKEA, was dismissed for gross misconduct after he was seen by a manager to consume a milkshake valued at 97p without paying for it.
The Claimant was accused of theft which IKEA concluded amounted to gross misconduct. He was suspended and later made subject to a disciplinary procedure.
The Claimant did not turn up to either the investigatory meeting or the disciplinary hearing, but they were not purposefully missed. The Claimant had a pre-arranged holiday to France meaning he not only missed the meetings but, importantly in this case, did not receive notice of those meetings. IKEA reached a decision to dismiss the Claimant in his absence.
The Claimant made a claim to the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal which was finally heard in March 2016.
Upon giving his evidence he admitted that he had taken the milkshake but that this had been a genuine mistake and a misunderstanding of the rules. He had personally witnessed numerous other members of staff consuming beverages and not paying for them. This could be construed as a customary event. The Claimant was disciplined, whereas the other members of staff were not.
The Tribunal concluded that the employer could not justify the dismissal and awarded the Claimant £23,000 in compensation. The employer will also have paid the Claimant’s issuing fees (currently totalling £1,200) and the employer’s own solicitor’s costs.
This case illustrates a number of important points for employers to be aware of, mainly the importance of:
• An investigatory process – The Claimant was not given the opportunity to advance his defence to the accusation and had IKEA heard his explanation the outcome may have been quite different
• Of having policies and procedures and following the same
• Of taking legal advice as to the actions you are considering taking
• Of striking a balance as to what is gross misconduct
• Of making sure the employee is able to attend the investigatory and disciplinary meetings – it would have been reasonable and easily achieved for the employer to postpone the meetings until after the employees pre-arranged holiday to France
Almy & Thomas can offer:
• An external HR service for undertaking the investigatory process. It is best practice for a person unrelated to the incident in question to undertake the investigatory process, which can be challenging in small companies with limited numbers of employees. It may also be that there are enough members of staff to undertake the process but they would feel awkward in doing so as they are close colleagues. We can undertake the process for you.
• We can draft policies and procedures for your company or review the ones you already have in place to see if they are up-to-date with legislation and best practice
• If you are unsure about taking the last step in a decision or require advice along the way, we can assist you.
Contact our Stephanie Teece on 01803 299131 to discuss your requirements.