Woman awarded €9,000 for unfair dismissal after forgetting to pay for €6.74 toys for upset baby

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A large supermarket chain is counting the cost of unfairly dismissing a female worker for taking without paying a €6.74 pack of ‘Hot Wheels’ toy cars for her upset 18-month-old baby boy.

This follows the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ordering the unnamed supermarket chain to pay its former office worker €9,000 after finding that she was unfairly dismissed on March 20, 2017.

WRC Adjudication Officer, Kevin Baneham found that the evidence in the case was of “a customer who forgot to pay, as opposed to a shoplifter trying to avoid paying for an item”.

The office worker with the supermarket chain was on a day off on Sunday, January 15, 2017, and was doing a quick shop on her way home from Mass.

In his findings, Mr Baneham noted that as the mother was paying for her goods at the till “she was clearly struggling with her upset child”.

A representative for the supermarket chain told the WRC that the retailer lost €30m per year from ‘shrinkage’ - or loss on inventory from shop-lifting, employee theft etc.

The woman was dismissed in March 2017 for serious misconduct after her employer viewed her actions as a breach of trust.

In her evidence, the office worker at the supermarket chain’s nearby distribution centre said that during her quick shop with her 18-month-old son in a buggy, she picked up a spread, bread rolls and two packs of ‘Hot Wheels’ toy cars.

The worker said that her 18-month-old initially held both sets of ‘Hot Wheels’ sets and after he threw one to the ground she placed it on the buggy canopy.

The mother said that she moved the ‘Hot Wheels’ pack to underneath the buggy as it slipped off the canopy. She told the WRC hearing that she intended to pay for both sets of ‘Hot Wheels’.

The mother told the hearing that while paying for the other items, her son was crying as he was hungry and she forgot to pay for the second set of ‘Hot Wheels’.

She stated that she was distracted at the point of payment, as her child was crying and trying to get out of the buggy.

She pointed out that on two occasions, she had to call over a staff member to assist.

The woman had worked for the supermarket chain for 10 years with a blemish-free record and asked the WRC hearing why would she risk her employment over an item worth €6.74?

On leaving the store, the mother was approached by a security guard who brought her to the security room.

The mother was asked for a receipt and she realised that she had not paid for one set of ‘Hot Wheels’.

The security guard accused her of stealing the ‘Hot Wheels’ and that he would have to call the Gardaí.

The Gardaí weren’t called and the mother was allowed to leave and on her way out, she returned to the store and purchased a second set of ‘Hot Wheels’.

Three days later, the worker was suspended and following a disciplinary and investigation process, she was dismissed in March 2017.

The firm’s head of security at the outlet stated that the incident had full SCONE – Selection, Concealment, Observation, Non-Payment, Exiting the store - and that a customer was not approached without the five points being reached.

Asked why the worker wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt, the head of security replied that he made his decision on the CCTV footage, the timing of the concealment and the subsequent non-payment.

When it was was put to the head of security at the hearing that the worker was distracted by the issues at the till and her son’s behaviour, leading her to forget about the toys, he replied that he could not assume what was going through the complainant’s mind and there were substantial grounds to find that the worker was dishonest.

The manager who heard the worker’s internal appeal against dismissal stated that there was, unfortunately, no option but to uphold the decision and that the worker’s actions were serious and there is zero tolerance in relation to theft.

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