A female employee of Marks & Spencer got into hot water and lost her job after making and consuming a hot beverage on its premises without paying for it.
A union official yesterday described as “very harsh” the decision by the Irish arm of &M&S to sack a café worker for drinking a €2 cup of coffee on its premises and not paying for it.
Mandate divisional organiser Michael Meegan said other options were open to M&S other than sacking Valerie Byrne after she admitted to drinking the coffee at the M&S café counter at its Mary St outlet in Dublin but not paying for the item.
He said Ms Byrne is a lone parent of a 16-year-old and had worked for M&S for a number of years. She had an excellent disciplinary record in relation to dishonesty before the incident on September 26, 2012. At the time, she worked as a sales assistant in the coffee shop.
Mr Meegan said he had recently met Ms Byrne and she was still without work after the dismissal. He said: “A final written warning to Valerie or a suspension was open to M&S, but instead the firm sacked Valerie over a €2 cup of coffee and that is very severe.”
Mr Meegan said Ms Byrne didn’t realise the consequences of drinking and not paying for the coffee.
Ms Byrne was dismissed for gross misconduct and claimed unfair dismissal.
After a one-day hearing in Dublin, the Employment Appeals Tribunal said the circumstances around her dismissal were “undeniably harsh”. However, it found that her case failed, saying she would have been aware M&S was entitled to summarily dismiss an individual regardless of the minimal value of the dishonest act. This was based on a company handbook to staff warning of the consequences of stepping out of line in relation to dishonesty.
The tribunal stated: “There can be no doubt that the policy within this company is that there is to be no toleration of theft, no matter what its form and no matter what its value. This fact would have been well-known to the appellant [Ms Byrne] who took a risk... when she made and consumed a hot drink without paying for same.”
CCTV footage captured Ms Byrne drinking the coffee behind the cafe counter and not paying for it.
An M&S member of security notified the commercial manager who notified Ms Byrne’s direct line manager and, in effect, directed the initiation of an investigation. This was conducted within the hour and, on foot of admissions made by Ms Byrne, she was suspended pending further investigation.
Mr Meegan said yesterday both he and Ms Byrne “are surprised and disappointed by the tribunal ruling”.
A spokeswoman for the Irish arm of M&S said last night: “The tribunal upheld the decision and we would not comment any further.”
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