Employee theft: can low value render a dismissal unfair?

A recent case from the Netherlands raises this interesting question – is value relevant to theft? A Dutch McDonalds worker sold a hamburger to a colleague, but at her request then put a free slice of cheese in it. This of course converted it a discounted cheeseburger. This was held to be grounds for dismissal by the employer, but the court ruled that a written warning would have been the reasonable response.

Read the BBC News report

Quite why this made international news is unclear, but the situation in the UK is that this dismissal would likely be fair, if the employer was satisfied that the employee’s behaviour was dishonest. Theft is referred to in the Acas Code of Practice as gross misconduct which might justify dismissal without previous warnings. It is al

In Murphy v Trust Houses Forte Hotels Ltd [1977] IRLR 186 a hotel night porter drank around £8 worth of spirits entrusted to him to dispense to hotel guests. Notwithstanding his intention to make good the employer’s loss, the dishonesty was sufficient to make the employer’s decision to dismiss reasonable.

I once acted in proceedings for an employer who dismissed a long-serving warehouse supervisor of good character when he ate a pack of sweets from a production line. The retail cost of the sweets was around 30 pence. His advisor failed to file the ET1 in time so the case never proceeded to a tribunal, but I remain of the opinion that, all other things being equal, low value cannot displace deliberate dishonesty in rendering the decision to dismiss being within the range of reasonable responses.

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