The case of Mr S Fekete v Citibank considers this question. The Claimant in this case commenced work with the Respondent in 2015 and was employed as a EMEA Regulatory Exam Management and Oversight – Senior Analyst.
In July of 2022 the Claimant went on a work trip to Amsterdam and confirmed that he would be bringing his partner with him. After the Claimant handed in his expense claim he was informed that the claim was going to be rejected as the meals were for two people. The Claimant explained this was not the case and he had eaten two sandwiches and drank two coffees as they were very small. He also explained that these claims were well within his 100 euro per day limit. When further questions were asked the Claimant objected to having to justify his eating habits.
The Director handling this claim referred it to the Ethics Office and the Claimant was informed the claim would be investigated. A meeting was arranged to discuss this, and he denied having a meal with his partner and continued to insist the meals were consumed by him alone. But he eventually confirmed that some of the items claimed for were consumed by his partner.
The investigation outcome was that the Claimant should face disciplinary proceedings for breaching the company expense management policy. Additionally, by maintaining his explanation that the meals had all been consumed by him, that his actions may be deemed gross misconduct.
A disciplinary hearing was held and the Claimant explained to the committee that it was his understanding of the policy that he could claim up to €100 per day. He also mentioned that he was having personal difficulties, specifically following the death of his grandmother and with his mental health.
He was asked why it took until 22 August 2022 for him to advise that some of the food and drink claimed was for his partner. The Claimant replied by answering that he had been on medical leave and under medication. He also stated that it hadn’t been clear how he should submit his expenses. The Claimant also said that he needed time to understand what he was being asked.
The Claimant was dismissed and unsuccessfully appealed this decision. He then raised a claim for unfair dismissal at the Employment Tribunal. This was also unsuccessful.
The Respondent’s position was that despite the Claimant stating he did not understand the policy, it was very clear that spousal expenses were not recoverable. If the Claimant was not aware, then he should have checked before making a claim. They also argued that it should be common sense that a company would not pay for a non-colleague’s expenses.
The Respondent also argued that the decision was not about the amount of money, which was relatively small, but about the dishonesty of the Claimant in answering the questions as he did, not just once but on multiple occasions and that he failed to accept responsibility for his actions.
The Tribunal agreed that the decision to dismiss had been a proportionate response. They considered that the Respondent operates in a highly regulated financial sector and requires its employees to act with utmost integrity at all times. The Code of Conduct expressly states that its employees’ responsibilities includes a commitment to honesty. The Tribunal stated that “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 requires a commitment to honesty from its employees”.
While this may seem harsh, financial institutions have a reputation for strict sanctions regarding personal misconduct. This case demonstrates that where honesty is paramount, lying about relatively small matters can still justifiably result in dismissal.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.