Do you know the Muffin Man?

12 Mar 2012

Every so often, a case comes along that is a joy to read about.  Despite the unengaging title, Medhin v Compass Group UK & Ireland Ltd t/a Restaurant Associates ET/ 2300304/10 is one of those cases.

In Medhin a Tribunal was given the task of deciding whether an employee, who was dismissed for eating a muffin, was unfairly dismissed.

Mr Medhin worked for Restaurant Associates as a cafe assistant.  The employer did have policies in place about staff meals; however, the policies were not enforced and staff regularly took food from the restaurant for themselves.

The restaurant decided to remedy the situation and brought in a new staff meals policy.  The new policy set out which foods employees could take.  The policy specifically said that employees could not take cakes but, shockingly, muffins were not mentioned in the policy at all.

Around 6 months after the new policy was brought in, Mr Medhin was observed entering a lift whilst carrying a muffin.  Mr Medhin confirmed he had both taken and eaten said muffin.  This led to a disciplinary investigation, during which the unrepentant Mr Medhin expressed the view that, given the policy’s silence on the muffin question, he was at liberty to consume them at will.

Following a number of postponements, the Company held a disciplinary hearing in Mr Medhin’s absence and dismissed him, primarily on the basis that he had admitted the muffin theft.

After an unsuccessful appeal, Mr Medhin brought a claim of unfair dismissal.

The Tribunal concluded that Mr Medhin had not admitted he had purloined the muffin and therefore the dismissal was based on incorrect information and, as such, was not reasonable.  The Tribunal also held that holding the disciplinary hearing in Mr Medhin’s absence was not reasonable, given that he had been off sick for the postponed hearings.

As a result, Mr Medhin, the muffin man, was found to have been unfairly dismissed.

Leaving to one side the unusual and entertaining facts, this case reinforces the importance of proper documentation and processes.