The recently reported Employment Tribunal decision in Fekete -v- Citibank is a tale of food, falsehood, and fairness. Emma O’Connor, Legal Director, reports on the lessons learned and practice points.
Mr Fekete worked for Citibank for 7 years as an analyst specialising in financial crime. Whilst on a business trip to Amsterdam, Mr Fekete claimed expenses for two sandwiches, two coffees and two pasta dishes which he said he had eaten himself. He was allowed a daily expenses allowance by his employer of €100 whilst working abroad. However, his manager queried his expenses claim and asked if he had eaten all of this food himself in one day and asked Mr Fekete for an explanation. Mr Fekete replied (via an email exchange) that “I was on the business trip by myself and… I had 2 coffees as they were very small.”
He also said, “On that day I skipped breakfast and only had 1 coffee in the morning. For lunch I had 1 sandwich with a drink and 1 coffee in the restaurant, and took another coffee back to the office with me and had the second sandwich in the afternoon… which also served as my dinner.”
Mr Fekete queried why his employers were questioning him, as the amounts claimed were well within the daily expenses allowance. His employer said that its query was not about the amount claimed but whether Mr Fekete had claimed for his partner’s meals, which was not allowed under the employer’s expenses management policy, and also, that if he were claiming for another person (for example a client), that person should have been disclosed on the expenses claim form.
The matter was then escalated to the employer’s security and investigations services department, which also questioned Mr Fekete about the expenses claim and whether he had claimed for his partner’s meals as well as his own. Again, Mr Fekete denied the accusation. However, later Mr Fekete changed his response and accepted that his partner had accompanied him on the business trip, and he had indeed claimed for her meals alongside his own. In his defence, he said that he was on strong medication following the death of his grandmother and was also on medical leave when he had replied to the Bank’s initial emails to him about the expenses.
Mr Fekete was dismissed for gross miscount by the Bank. He brought claims for unfair and wrongful dismissal. Mr Fekete lost his claims in the Employment Tribunal.
What have we learned?
Ultimately, this case revolves around the honesty of Mr Fekete’s responses to the Bank’s investigation. Indeed, the Tribunal accepted that this case was not about the sums claimed, it was about the responses Mr Fekete gave to questions being asked as well as the original filing of the expenses claim form. The Tribunal accepted that Mr Fekete had ample opportunity to explain to his employer what had happened and what he had claimed, and to set the record straight. If he had made a “full and frank disclosure” when he was first asked, then the decision of the Bank might have been different. Moreover, as well as a finding that the dismissal was fair, the Judge also held that as the claimant was in a position of trust, his actions had undermined the trust his employer had in him.
When faced with a case of alleged misconduct or potentially gross misconduct, it is important that employers follow both their internal processes as well as consider the fairness of both the decision and process in accordance with the Employment Rights Act 1996.
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