An Employment Appeals Tribunal heard Eleanor Preston admitted doctoring a letter from a community organisation group involved in ‘bag-packs’ at Dunnes in order to open a cash and carry account.
The supermarket giant sacked Ms Preston, who had worked for Dunnes for 10 years, for gross misconduct after finding out about her private enterprise.
However, after a hearing in Cork, the EAT found Ms Preston was unfairly dismissed by Dunnes and ordered the firm to pay her €16,630.
The dismissal followed the store receiving a complaint from a community group in February 2012 over Ms Preston opening an account at the cash and carry in the group’s name.
The group’s letterhead was used to validate the association with the group to open the account.
Ms Preston admitted taking the community group’s letter requesting a bag-pack and doctoring it for the purposes of opening the account.
The EAT reported that the wife of one of the community group leaders worked in Dunnes, while the wife of another community group leader worked for the cash and carry, hence the discovery and subsequent complaint.
At a meeting on February 11, 2012, Ms Preston told her bosses she “was in financial difficulty and was earning extra money from selling the cash and carry goods”.
At a second meeting that day, Ms Preston admitted to selling the goods to Dunnes staff on a different cash and carry account. She was immediately suspended and, at a disciplinary meeting two days later, was sacked.
Dunnes argued Ms Preston was a department manager and in a position of trust and no other sanction would be appropriate, given the serious nature of the offence. A Dunnes store manager told the tribunal he did take Ms Preston’s long service, clean disciplinary record and family problems into consideration before making his decision.
Ms Preston made an internal appeal but the company’s regional grocery manager upheld the decision.
The EAT stated: “As this was the claimant’s first offence, committed in a time of great personal difficulty which the respondent was aware of, the sanction of dismissal was disproportionate”. The EAT awarded her €14,000 compensation and €2,630 or four weeks’ notice.