Sandwich sacking, senior banker dismissed over coffee and sandwich expense claim
Szabolcs Fekete was a senior analyst at Citibank specialising in financial crimes, and he was sacked for lying about an expense claim he submitted following a conference in Amsterdam.
His crime wasn’t so much about the value (a pasta meal, sandwich and a coffee) but was about dishonesty – his manager had given him an opportunity to rectify his expenses, but instead he chose to lie, claiming he had consumed 2 coffees, 2 meals and 2 sandwiches himself. Even when probed he chose to respond:
“All my expenses are within the €100 daily allowance. Could you please outline what your concern is as I don’t think I have to justify my eating habits to this extent.”
He later admitted that his partner was present and had consumed some of the food, blaming his error of judgement on his distress over the loss of his grandmother and the strong medication he was taking at the time of his responses.
Citibank dismissed Mr Fekete for lying and breach of its policies, and Mr Fekete brought a claim for unfair and wrongful dismissal.
Implied term of trust
Contract terms arise not just from written terms in employment contracts, but from implied terms – terms that don’t need to be written down – like the implied duty for employees and employers to be trustworthy towards one another.
The judge hearing the case said:
“I have found that this case is not about the sums of money involved. This case is about the filing of the expense claim and the conduct of the claimant thereafter.
“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.”
The claimant was employed in a position of trust in a global financial institution. “I am satisfied that even if the expense claim had been filed under a misunderstanding, there was an obligation upon the claimant to own up and rectify the position at the first opportunity. I accept that the respondent (Citibank) requires a commitment to honesty from its employees.”
Reasonable response for a reasonable employer
The judge found that Citibank’s decision to dismiss Mr Fekete was reasonable, using the test adopted by tribunals to establish ‘reasonableness’.
Considering the facts here Mr Fekete turned up an opportunity to rectify an error (if indeed it was an error) choosing instead to lie to his manager. The fact that his claim was only for a few pounds was irrelevant – his attempt to deceive amounted to a serious breach of trust, and gross misconduct was a reasonable finding.
Consequently, his tribunal claims were dismissed.
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