An employment tribunal backed a global bank in sacking a senior executive after fiddling expenses for a meal.
Citibank sacked senior analyst Szabolcs Fekete in December 2022 after he claimed for a pasta meal, sandwiches, and drinks for him and his partner, during a two-day business trip to Amsterdam.
After Mr Fekete lodged claims against Citibank, Employment Judge Illing at East London employment tribunal held that Mr Fekete’s claims of unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal were not well founded.
Citibank ended his seven-year career for a first disciplinary dispute even though the fraudulent expenses were less than the bank’s 100 euros limit.
It turned out to be his most expensive lunch outside of a motorway service station.
Mr Fekete seems to have submitted his expenses with all the optimistic number work of the Kwarteng mini-budget. Citibank policy ruled out expenses for wives’ travel and meals.
The tribunal heard that Citibank held an investigation, had a disciplinary meeting with Mr Fekete and then dismissed him for gross misconduct. They then held an appeal that concluded that there was no new evidence.
But Mr Fekete’s version of events had more twists than the disputed pesto pasta.
He first told the investigation that he ate all the food claimed for, but then later backtracked and admitted that he shared it with his partner.
The investigation found he not only had breached the expenses policy, but more seriously, had lied about it. They found this amounted to gross misconduct.
Judge Illing said:
“The claimant was afforded a number of opportunities to rectify any mistake, but he did not do so. I am satisfied that the questions being asked of him were clear and unequivocal and I find that the claimant repeated his representation, which was on more than one occasion and to more than one, increasingly senior, manager.
“I therefore conclude that this conduct was sufficiently serious to entitle the respondent to dismiss the claimant without notice.”
The reason for dismissal in Mr Fekete’s case may seem trivial but employment tribunals are mainly concerned about a fair dismissal process.
With important exceptions, tribunals expect an employer to
i. conduct a reasonable investigation,
ii. hold a fair hearing so the employee can argue his or her case,
iii. make a finding of fact and
iv. take a decision that a reasonable employer would make.
Nonetheless, employment tribunals decide an unfair dismissal case based on a band of reasonable response to an issue that an employer would make. The employers’ responses need not to be the same.
For Mr Fekete, it was not the value of the claim but the repeated lies about the details which led to Sarniegate, and him losing his bread and butter.