Employment tribunal: Dismissal over expenses

In the case of Mr S Fekete v Citibank NA, Citibank successfully defended a claim at employment tribunal after the employee was dismissed for gross misconduct for claiming food for his spouse in his business expenses, against employer policy.

Mr Fekete was an analyst specialising in financial crime at Citibank for 7 years. Following a business trip to Amsterdam, he submitted an expenses claim for two sandwiches, two pasta dishes and two coffees. His manager questioned his expenses claim.

Initially, Mr Fekete claimed that he alone had eaten the food. He argued that the cost of the food was within the company’s daily allowance of €100, and in an email to his manager, he stated “I don’t think I have to justify my eating habits to this extent”. The bank clarified that its concern was not regarding the price of the meal, but rather, whether the claim violated its expense management policy. This policy specified that travel and meals for spouses were not eligible for reimbursement.

Citibank launched an investigation into the matter. During the investigation, Mr Fekete disclosed that his partner had joined him during the business trip and shared some of the food. By way of mitigation, he stated that he was going through personal problems after the death of his grandmother, he was on medical leave from work, and he was on medication while he was answering the initial questions from his manager about his expenses claim. Following the investigation, he was dismissed for gross misconduct. Mr Fekete subsequently submitted a claim at the Employment Tribunal for unfair and wrongful dismissal.

Mr Fekete’s Employment Tribunal claim was unsuccessful. In the judgment, Judge Illing stated “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.”

The judge also added “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.”

This case demonstrates the importance of trust and confidence in an employment relationship and the importance of following a fair and reasonable disciplinary process. The minimal amount Mr Fekete tried to claim did not provide any justification or mitigation for his actions. Judge Illing’s judgment was critical of Mr Fekete’s conduct following his expenses claim being questioned, and he was conscious of the fact that Mr Fekete was in a position of trust in a financial institution.

Practical implications – What does this mean for you as an employer?

• This is good news for employers, as the small amount may seem trivial, but the legal principle was still applied.

• Employers must ensure that they follow a fair and reasonable process when undertaking any disciplinary action. In unfair dismissal claims, Tribunals consider the reason for the dismissal and the process followed when determining whether the dismissal was fair and reasonable.

• Employers should regularly review their disciplinary and expense policies to ensure they are fit for purpose.

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If you have any queries arising from this update, please get in touch with our Employment team.

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