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Employer Pays Compensation for ‘Thief’ Sign

12th March, 2011

A businessman from Witham, Essex, who believed that an employee had stolen a cheque for £845 from him and subsequently marched him to the local police station holding a sign saying “thief”, has paid out £13,000 after being sued by the former employee.

Mark Gilbert had written out a company cheque to himself and taken it to Cash Converters. When his employer, Simon Cremer discovered this, he escorted Mr Gilbert to the local police station, making him carry a handmade sign that read: “Thief. I stole £845 am on my way to police station.

Mr Gilbert subsequently confessed to the theft and was cautioned. Mr Cremer was charged with false imprisonment, but the case against him collapsed. This was not, however, the end of the matter as Mr Gilbert issued proceedings against Mr Cremer for distress, humiliation and two years of lost earnings.

The case was due to come before a civil court but faced with mounting legal costs, Mr Cremer decided that it would be more financially viable to settle out of court and settlement was agreed in the sum of £13,000.

Whilst many will believe that this outcome is unfair (given that the employee who admitted theft was cautioned, in comparison with the employer who is now facing the loss of his home to pay the compensation), this case highlights the importance of following a proper disciplinary procedure, however serious the employee’s actions or strong the evidence as to their guilt.

Theft (once established with evidence following a reasonable investigation) will usually constitute gross misconduct, with most contracts allowing for summary dismissal in this instance. This does not mean, however, that the disciplinary procedure does not need to be followed and there will not be a situation where an employee can be fairly dismissed ‘on the spot’ in absence of a fair disciplinary procedure.

The ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures lays out minimum requirements which must be followed when disciplining an employee for misconduct or poor performance. A proper investigation must take place, followed by a disciplinary hearing. Employees have numerous rights during the process, including the right to be informed at various stages in writing, the right of appeal and the right to be accompanied to the disciplinary and any appeal meetings or hearings. These requirements should form the basis of a detailed company disciplinary policy and should be followed in all situations where an employee needs to be disciplined. Failure to comply with the ACAS Code may lead to a finding of unfair dismissal and the tribunal may increase compensation by up to 25% if the failure was unreasonable.

As highlighted in this case, it is imperative to ensure that all staff conducting or involved in a disciplinary process behave appropriately; as improper behaviour could give rise to grounds for appeal and/or potentially lead to claims for unfair dismissal or even harassment etc.

An employer is, of course, entitled to seek police intervention where necessary (and indeed most contracts of employment will specifically refer to this), but any such involvement should be handled in a way which is both professional and appropriate.

Aaron and Partners LLP are currently offering a FREE review of Contracts of Employment and Disciplinary and other policies. If you would like to take advantage of this offer, then please contact a member of the team.

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