March 1, 2017
Easyjet: Three Lessons from the ‘Battle of the Baguette’
A former flight attendant for budget airline Easyjet reached a settlement with her previous employer after instigating proceedings in the employment tribunal for unfair dismissal.
Here’s the facts of the case:
Shannon Gleeson, 22, had worked for Easyjet for three years at the time and was given a bacon baguette by her manager whilst on a flight. Ms Gleeson, who suffered from a nut allergy and could apparently find no other food to consume on the flight, ate the sandwich but did not pay for it.
The consumption of the snack was reported by other staff who witnessed it and Easyjet commenced an investigation which ultimately led to the dismissal of Ms. Shannon and her manager. Ms Gleeson was dismissed for gross misconduct by way of alleged theft of the sandwich.
Battle of the baguette
Following her dismissal the so-called ‘Battle of the Baguette’ ensued, as Ms Gleeson brought unfair dismissal proceedings on the grounds it was not her responsibility to have paid for the goods, nor to have confirmed that her line manager had.
She believed that if her line manager had given her the food then she was entitled to believe it had been paid for appropriately.
The employer relied on an alleged policy which apparently contained the proviso that if one staff member gives another staff member goods, the recipient must ask to see a receipt to show the goods had been paid for and, by not doing so, Ms. Gleeson was complicit in theft.
During the hearing, which took place at an employment tribunal at Cambridge Magistrates Court, Employment Judge Michael Ord made a number of criticisms of the Easyjet’s case and their treatment of Ms Gleeson.
The three reasons Easyjet lost and came under criticism
Easyjet suffered three main criticisms in the tribunal hearing.
First, the policy being relied upon was not written, and by no means clear. Indeed, the Respondent’s Ross Fraser, who dismissed Ms. Gleeson, said during the hearing:
“It (the policy) doesn’t say it in black and white, but the expectation is there. There is regular communication to all of the cabin crew.”
The judge found Ms. Gleeson hadn’t taken the food from the trolley and Easyjet hadn’t given sufficient evidence to demonstrate she was responsible for ensuring it was paid for.
The resulting judgment found Ms Gleeson to have done nothing wrong, a galling outcome for Easyjet as it was a situation that could easily have been avoided had the policy simply been written down.
Second, the judge was not satisfied that Easyjet could even show there had been a theft in the first place, as they apparently had no way of recording stock levels on flights and therefore no way of showing a loss.
As Judge Ord stated:
“If I rang my insurance company and told them my Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow had been stolen they would want to see proof that I owned it. You have actually got to show some loss for there to be a theft. I see no evidence that anything was paid for or not paid for.”
An analogy referencing a Ford Fiesta would have worked equally well one assumes, but the point made is a simple one. It can become difficult for an organisation to satisfactorily evidence theft without a stock audit showing there has been a loss incurred.
Thirdly, the Judge criticised the fact that Easyjet did not seem to take sufficient account of the employee’s open and honest admission of what had happened, and didn’t appear to consider any other option than dismissal of an employee with three years’ unblemished service.
The case for policy clarity gets stronger
The case is interesting as it highlights once again the importance of ensuring policies employers rely on when instigating disciplinary procedures are clear and unambiguous.
The illustration above is a clear example of an issue which arises regularly in employment tribunals – where an employee (or former employee) is able to question whether an alleged policy was clearly known and understood.
The respondent in such a case will often take the stance that ‘everybody knows this is the policy’ but, in this case as in many others, this was not sufficient for the judge.