Can you get the sack for asking your employer to pay for your partner’s dinner?

Can you get the sack for asking your employer to pay for your partner’s dinner?

Yes, according to Employment Judge Illing in the recent Employment Tribunal case of Mr Szabolcs Fekete v Citibank N.A.

The background

In this case, Mr Fekete (who had been employed by the company for many years as a Senior Analyst within the financial crime profession) travelled to Amsterdam on 3 July until 5 July 2022 on business. In advance of the trip, Mr Fekete told his colleague that his partner would be accompanying him. Mr Fekete was then on medical leave for six weeks, until 17 August 2022.

After his trip and during his leave, Mr Fekete submitted an expenses claim for his trip to Amsterdam. Mr Fekete was informed some time later that further approvals were required for his claim from a Director, Mr Gigante. Mr Gigante believed that the Mr Fekete was making a claim for meals that had been purchased for, and consumed by, his partner. The employer’s expenses policy clearly stated that, “spousal travel and meals are not reimbursable”. Mr Fekete repeatedly told his employer that he had consumed all of the food on the receipts, all which confirmed that two meals had been purchased in one sale. Mr Fekete told his employer there should not be an issue with his claims as the sums being claimed were under the 100 daily allowance, in accordance with the expenses policy.

External investigators were appointed to further consider the matter. During the meeting, Mr Fekete was asked if he and his partner had a meal together and he confirmed that was “not correct”. Mr Fekete consistently argued that he had consumed all of the meals being claimed for. During the meeting, Mr Fekete did not provide direct answers to the questions. The investigation outcome was that Mr Fekete had claimed for reimbursement for meals consumed by his partner, in breach of the policy, and that he had acted dishonestly by stating that all meals had been consumed by him.

Disciplinary hearing

A disciplinary hearing was convened on 15 November 2022 to discuss the allegations. During the hearing, in mitigation, Mr Fekete stated that he was having personal difficulties following the death of his grandmother and with his mental health. The outcome of the hearing was that Mr Fekete was dismissed as his actions amounted to gross misconduct which fundamentally breached the trust and confidence within the employment relationship. Mr Fekete appealed the decision, but it was not upheld.

Mr Fekete then raised claims against his former employer for unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal. The Judge found in the employer’s favour and dismissed both claims. This decision was based on the fact that the Judge believed that the employer had a genuine belief that Mr Fekete had acted as per the allegations and that the decision was within the band of reasonable responses. In the judgement, Judge Illing stated, “It is significant that the claimant did not make a full and frank disclosure at the first opportunity and that he did not answer questions directly.”

Food for thought …for employers and employees

This case demonstrates to employees the importance of being honest to your employer. In this case, if the employee had been honest regarding the breach of the expenses policy, doubt is cast over whether his employer would have had sufficient grounds or acted reasonably in dismissing him.

In addition, this case is a timely reminder to employers of the importance of having clear and unambiguous rules in policies which are communicated to employees. If the employer in this case had not documented their position around claiming reimbursement for spousal meals, they may not have been as successful at the Tribunal.

If you are an employer and would like our team of expert employment lawyers to review your current expenses policies, do not hesitate to contact us.

This update contains general information only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice.

Pauline Hughes, Solicitor: / 0141 221 8012 / Connect with Pauline on LinkedIn