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Muffin eating did not justify dismissal

28 February 2011 #Employment

The ET has held in Medhin v Compass Group UK & Ireland Ltd t/a Restaurant Associates ET/2300304/10 that an employee who was dismissed for eating a muffin was unfairly dismissed.

Mr Medhin worked for Restaurant Associates as a cafe assistant, providing catering services. Although policies regarding staff meals were in place, these were not enforced and staff regularly took food for their own consumption.

In May 2009, the company implemented a new policy on staff meals. It specified the items staff were and were not entitled to consume. It specifically stated that cakes could not be taken, but there was no mention of muffins in the policy.

In October 2009 Mr Medhin was seen going into a lift carrying a muffin. He was asked about this by his manager the next day and confirmed that he had eaten it. The company believed this was a breach of the new policy as muffins were not to be taken. They regarded this as theft and therefore commenced a disciplinary investigation. At the investigation meeting Mr Medhin explained that he believed he was allowed to eat muffins as the policy did not state otherwise. The company decided that the matter should proceed to a disciplinary hearing.

The hearing was postponed on 3 occasions, twice due to Mr Medhin`s being ill and once due to it being arranged at short notice. The company arranged a fourth meeting and warned Mr Medhin that if he did not attend a decision may be reached in his absence. He did not attend again due to illness and the hearing went ahead in his absence.

At the hearing Mr Medhin was dismissed as it was said that Mr Medhin had admitted the theft of the muffin. This was not true.  Mr Medhin`s appealed, and a review was held after which he was unsuccessful. He therefore filed a claim of unfair dismissal in the Tribunal.

The Tribunal considered that the company did not have reasonable grounds for dismissing Mr Medhin as the decision was based on incorrect information. Had the appeal been thorough it could have remedied this, but the Tribunal held this was not the case.

The Tribunal also held that it was not reasonable for the company to have held the disciplinary hearing in Mr Medhin`s absence given that he was sick on three of the proposed dates.

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