Retail furnishing giant IKEA is counting the cost of sacking a bistro worker at its Dublin store for consuming a €1.25 milkshake without paying for it.
This follows the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) ordering that IKEA Ireland pay €30,000 to Ian Fortune after it ruled that the firm had unfairly dismissed him from its Ballymun outlet after he consumed the drink.
Employees at IKEA are permitted to drink tea, coffee and soda fountain drinks free of charge, but Mr Fortune was suspended after a manager witnessed him and three colleagues drinking milkshakes.
Mr Fortune had not purchased a company token for it.
The consumption of the milk-shake without paying was treated as 'gross misconduct' and Mr Fortune was dismissed over the incident.
He failed to turn up for the investigation and disciplinary meetings into the incident, as he was on holiday in France at the time with his wife and son on a pre-booked holiday. He said he had not received notification of the meetings.
In its ruling, the EAT stated that it is not satisfied that the matter amounts to a 'substantial ground justifying the dismissal'.
Mr Fortune had worked with IKEA since May 2009 until his dismissal on October 13, 2014.
In the case, IKEA's bistro manager gave evidence and said that he witnessed Mr Fortune and others consuming milkshakes after their shift.
The manager asked them if they planned on paying for the milkshakes and he wrote in his statement that he received 'inaudible responses'.
The next day the bistro manager checked the security cameras. He took notes at the suspension meeting and escorted Mr Fortune out.
At the beginning of their employment, IKEA employees are notified of what items can be taken for free. There are signs around the department warning employees about consumption of stock.
In cross-examination at the tribunal, the bistro manager conceded that there was a lot going on around him when he asked if the milkshakes were paid for. He did not get a response, so he said 'shall I assume they're paid for?'.
The bistro manager had no knowledge of employees treating milkshakes the same as the free entitlement to soft drinks.
The other employees drinking the milkshakes were queried about the incident and gave statements. No disciplinary action was taken against them.
An IKEA HR manager told the hearing that she treated the incident as "gross misconduct" and that she followed the relevant protocol, as theft in any form is considered gross misconduct.
The HR Manager denied that Mr Fortune informed her that he was going abroad, and said that she would have delayed the disciplinary process had she known.
The tribunal concluded that "given the circumstances of the milkshakes and the conversation ... the tribunal is not satisfied that the matter amounts to a 'substantial ground justifying the dismissal'."