Although this may be seen as theft, it may be difficult to obtain a fair dismissal on the basis on discovering a couple of instances of fraudulent claiming of expenses.
Having said this, there are many variables that would need to be considered according to the particular case in question which may lead to various routes that an employer may take e.g. the length of service the employee has; his previous disciplinary record; whether there are any live warnings on his file and what level of warnings have been given; the amount of money that has been wrongly claimed.
If all of the above were angled in the employee’s favour, a fair dismissal for a first disciplinary offence would have to be so serious that it made continued employment untenable. Such a dismissal, known as a gross misconduct dismissal (otherwise known as a summary dismissal) is quite rare. The actions of the employee must have been so grave that the employer simply cannot envisage keeping the individual in his employ. Adding £5 or £10 to your petrol expenses is perhaps not on the same page as thumping your boss when he asks you to pick up his printing from the printer. An employment tribunal would look to see if the employer’s responses are those that a reasonable employer would make, and whether the employer has acted reasonably in all circumstances.
Gross misconduct behaviour permits an employer to dismiss the employee without giving any notice or paying any notice pay that would normally be due under the employment contract. It doesn’t necessarily mean firing someone on the spot; suspension on full pay and an investigation are more likely features of a gross misconduct dismissal. Evidence of alleged breaches are key so having the correct paperwork, in this case it may be receipts, or mileage counters, or other proof that what has been claimed is not equal to expenditure, would substantiate any action taken.
Even if a dismissal is not attainable, it is certainly not something to be sweep under the carpet. It must be addressed with this particular employee so that he stops doing it, and also to send a message to other employees that fraudulent claiming of expenses is not acceptable.
Depending on a previous disciplinary form, there are a variety of actions an employer could take depending on how hard a line will be taken. An informal word with the employee, as a way of making him realise the employer knows what he is doing, may be enough to discontinue the behaviour or alternatively a formal disciplinary procedure could be implemented. This should be done in line with the company’s contractual disciplinary procedures and the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.
What is important is consistency in dealing with past and future instances of the same behaviour from other employees. Where facts are the same or similar, the employer should treat all employees who breach rules in the same manner.
By Nicola Mullinuex
For any further clarification, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.