Punishment has to fit the crime

An employer has been awarded £25588 after an employment appeal tribunal found he was unfairly dismissed for taking a magazine out of a bin. The employee was dismissed for gross misconduct after he allegedly took a copy of TIME magazine, worth about £4.40, from a rubbish bag on a stairwell. The employer’s defence was that they took a zero tolerance approach towards alleged theft, even when the item that was supposedly stolen held such a low value. The employer was a security company and said if the aim of the company was to protect clients’ property and contents then they were entitled to have a zero tolerance policy if that ethos was breached.  The employment tribunal agreed with this approach but the employee took the case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) which ruled that the dismissal was a disproportionate sanction “having regard to the value and significance of the property item in dispute, and the length of service and good employment record of the employee”.

There have been several recent cases where the tribunal has examined the length of employment and previous record of the employee against the context of the alleged breach and have found that the punishment is disproportionate to the crime.  The employer must take all of the circumstances into account when making its finding following a disciplinary hearing.

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