Tesco has been ordered to pay out over €150,000 in compensation to four of its former staff who were wrongly sacked as a result of a flawed disciplinary process by the supermarket giant.
The Employment Appeals Tribunal found Tesco unfairly dismissed the quartet who worked at a café attached to its former branch in Gorey, Co Wexford.
The retailer fired four long-serving staff for eating a variety of food and beverages, including fried breakfasts, on two dates in May 2013 on the basis they had not immediately paid for the items.
The EAT ordered the Irish division of the British grocery giant to pay a total of €153,521 to the four women, including a sum of almost €62,000 to the former café manager, Emer Lawless.
The tribunal said the conduct of Tesco’s disciplinary and appeal process into the allegations was unsatisfactory and described some of its findings as “irrational.” Although all four claimants had sought reinstatement to their former positions as a remedy, the tribunal ruled that it would not be in anyone’s best interest and ordered Tesco instead to pay out various amounts of compensation.
It awarded €61,918 to Ms Lawless and €41,000 to her colleague, Lisa Kinsella, €35,000 to Ann Dwyer and €15,103 to Edel Hardiman, who had all worked together at the former Tesco branch in Gorey.
The company has since opened a new supermarket in the town at a different location.
The four women were suspended with full pay after a security guard witnessed them serving themselves food without appearing to pay for it. Based on CCTV footage, Tesco claimed the four staff members had breached company policy and engaged in theft and fraud.
During a hearing that lasted eight days in Wexford last year, all four claimants maintained they had paid for the food at a later time. They insisted that such an arrangement was common practice at the café.
In evidence, Ms Dwyer said there had never been any prior disciplinary issues with her during her 15 years working for Tesco and she had hoped to stay there until her retirement.
Ms Kinsella, who had worked for Tesco for almost 12 years with an impeccable work record, explained that she had “paid for the food 100 per cent.”
All four women stated they believed they had done nothing wrong but would have ceased the practice immediately if they had been informed that they were in breach of company policy.
A former café manager told the tribunal that there was no firm policy preventing staff from paying for food after they had eaten it, but he added that that this was not the “general norm”.
He also informed the EAT that Tesco staff were not allowed to carry cash while working in the café.
.It was observed that the practice had arisen “out of necessity” as employees could not have cash on their person while on duty and staff lockers were a distance away in the context of a 15-minute break.
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