A tribunal has ordered retail giant Ikea to pay an employee who was sacked for stealing a milkshake that cost 97p over £23,000 in compensation. What monumental error did this employer make?
Some big mistakes
Every so often we report on cases or events where the employee’s involved have made simple but fatal errors, some of which have ended up costing thousands of pounds in compensations. In March 2016 a report about the Swedish retailer giant IKEA caught our eye.
Although it related to a ruling made by a tribunal in Ireland the issues and legal principles it covered would similarly apply to tribunals in the UK.
An expensive milkshake that will give you the shakes
Ian Fortune has been employed at IKEA’s Ballymun branch in Dublin since 2009 and primarily worked in it’s restaurant area.
In 2014 Fortune’s manager saw him drink a milkshake that would have ordinarily been sold for an equivalent of 97p. However, the manager did not see him pay for it.
As a result, he was suspended and later made subject to disciplinary action for gross misconduct as Ian Fortune had been accused of stealing.
Ian didn’t turn up to either the investigatory meeting or the disciplinary hearing but they weren’t missed on purpose – he was actually on pre-booked annual leave and away in France meaning that he didn’t receive the relevant notifications. IKEA reached a decision in Ian’s absence and he was sacked for gross misconduct. Ian didn’t appeal against the decision internally because he explained to the tribunal that he had no faith in the company’s internal process. Instead, Ian decided to commence with legal action for unfair dismissal.
His side of the story
In giving his evidence Ian explained to the tribunal that he had taken the milkshake but was adamant that it was no more than a genuine honest mistake. He also stated that on a different occasion, he had personally witnessed a group of fellow employees consuming beverages after their shift had finished and did not attempt to make a purchase. So he wasn’t the only one; he had been singled out for disciplinary action by IKEA.
The tribunal concluded taking all the circumstances into consideration, the employer could not justify the dismissal and awarded Ian with £23,000 in compensation. Clearly, the employer made a number of errors but the biggest was arranging an investigatory meeting and disciplinary hearing at times where the employee was unavailable to attend through no fault of his own.
First of all, you should always check for pre-booked annual leave dates for all relevant parties when arranging times and dates for investigatory meetings and disciplinary hearings. It could prevent a whole host of problems.
Should an employee take something without paying for it, don’t jump to conclusions. Ask them what their motives were before making any judgement calls. Arguably, had Ian been given the opportunity he would have paid for his milkshake when challenged. Most honest people would and genuine mistakes do happen. Also, don’t single employee’s out for disciplinary action. As there was a culture of taking free drinks IKEA should have dealt with Ian first and then advised to all staff that this was not permitted.
If you have any problems with HR and employment law within your business please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Unfortunately, we can not help individuals here at Crownford we work on a business to business basis.