“Sainsbury’s sacks worker of 20 years after he took ‘bags for life’ without paying”, proclaimed the newspaper headline. The subheading confirmed that the unfair dismissal claim was rejected. The article mentioned that the bags were sold for 30p or 65p. What made this misconduct deserve the ultimate sanction rather than a written warning
One key feature of Doffou v Sainsbury’s was the supermarket’s zero tolerance approach to theft. This came into the reckoning alongside the fact that Mr Doffou made more than one trip to obtain the bags for his shopping, and selected “zero bags” at the self checkout. His claim that he was “tired and unaware of what he was doing” was not deemed credible by the officer conducting the disciplinary hearing that took place three weeks after the investigation meeting. There was a full rehearing on appeal, and the dismissal was upheld. 
The tribunal was quick to conclude that Sainsbury’s honestly believed that Mr Doffou had committed an act of gross misconduct, and had reasonable grounds for the belief. The investigation was thorough, and it was open to conclude that there had been such an act, justifying dismissal, despite the low value of the bags. The dismissal fell within the range of reasonable responses open to a reasonable employer. 
One ancillary issue was whether Mr Doffou, a native French speaker who was well able to converse in English, properly understood the case against him. The tribunal, noting the availability of clear CCTV footage, was in no doubt that he did. Evidently it would have been overkill to fall back on the French proverb “qui vole un oeuf, vole un boeuf” – he who will steal an egg will steal an ox. The supermarket’s zero tolerance approach to theft on the part of employees echoed the proverb. 
Are you involved in a disciplinary process or a misconduct based tribunal claim? Do you need to know more about the range of reasonable responses? Get in touch. Contact David Cooper on 0121 325 5402 or via dmc@coxcooper.co.uk . 
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