In the world of financial services and banking, which are heavily regulated and scrutinised, even the most seemingly trivial actions can escalate into (relatively) major controversies. Enter, the Citibank sandwich incident.
The recent Employment Tribunal decision involving Citibank, Mr S Fekete, and some food and beverage purchases examines the meanings of honesty, corporate standards, and individual accountability.
The Claimant, Mr Fekete, travelled to Amsterdam on a three-day business trip. Prior to travelling, he had informed a colleague that he was taking his partner with him on the trip.
The Claimant submitted his expenses claim for the trip and, a few days later, was informed that further approvers were required for it. The further approver was Mr Adam Gigante, a Director and more senior colleague at Citibank.
Mr Gigante emailed Ms Cory, another colleague, to advise her that he was going to reject the claim as he believed that the meals were for two people and that all attendees whose meals had been submitted for reimbursement needed to be named in the system, as per their internal Expense Management Policy.
Ms Cory advised the Claimant of this and he replied: “I checked the receipt and did not see anything out of order 🙂 Please advise Adam that I was on the business trip by myself and that I had 2 coffees as they were very small.”
Ms Cory questioned the Claimant’s reply as there were two sandwiches, two coffees, and another drink. The Claimant replied, stating: “yes- that is correct. Kindly advise Adam that on that day I skipped breakfast and only had 1 coffee in the morning. For lunch I had 1 sandwich with a drink and 1 coffee in the restaurant, and took another coffee back to the office with me and had the second sandwich in the afternoon… which also served as my dinner.”
The Claimant added that the amounts were “well within my €100 limit”.
Citibank held a meeting with the Claimant as part of an investigation process, where the bank explained that this was not about the amount of money being claimed but whether the items were consistent with his expenses claim.
After the meeting, a colleague emailed the Citibank Expense Management Policy to the Claimant and asked him to review his receipt again for inconsistencies. In responding, the Claimant explained that there had been an overlap between his personal card and the company card and confirmed that some of the items claimed had been consumed by his partner. He also provided a breakdown of his partner’s meals.
The Claimant later argued that following the death of his grandmother, he had been having personal difficulties and, at the time he had responded to emails, had been on strong medication.
The investigation concluded that in claiming for reimbursement for meals not consumed by him, the Claimant had breached the Citibank Expense Management Policy, and therefore his actions were deemed as Gross Misconduct.
The Claimant pursued claims for unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal against his former employer, further escalating the Citibank sandwich incident.
The Employment Tribunal’s decision
The Employment Tribunal’s (ET) judgment centred around the actions of the Claimant that, on the surface, may seem mundane. However, as the Judge’s conclusions revealed, the issue runs deeper than a simple meal choice.
The ET assessed whether Citibank’s decision to dismiss Mr Fekete was reasonable given his conduct, and ultimately, the Judge found in favour of the bank. This verdict was based on the concept of dishonesty. Citibank contended that Mr Fekete had been dishonest by submitting exaggerated receipts for the sandwiches that he and his partner both consumed, and the Judge agreed with this.
The Judge confirmed this was not about the sums of money involved, but about the filling of the expense claim and the Claimant’s conduct thereafter. Considering the Claimant was employed by a bank in a position of trust, the Judge stated: “It is significant that the claimant did not make a full and frank disclosure at the first opportunity and that he did not answer questions directly.”
The Judge also found that even if the claim for expenses had been submitted under a misunderstanding, the Claimant had an obligation to put his hands up to this and try to rectify the expenses claim at the first opportunity.
While the Judge’s conclusions highlight the significance of corporate standards and ethical conduct, it’s essential to balance this perspective with the argument that Mr Fekete’s actions may appear too harsh. After all, he merely purchased some sandwiches. It begs the questions: Was Citibank’s response proportionate to the Claimant’s conduct? Was that conduct so severe to warrant Gross Misconduct?
The issue here was that the Claimant was given several opportunities to come clean about his expenses claim, and that he had tried to obtain reimbursement for his partners meal as well as his own. It was the fact that he failed to do so, and in fact continued his dishonesty, that ultimately led to his dismissal.
As a global financial institution, it is reasonable for Citibank to expect honesty from its employees. Had the Claimant admitted at the first opportunity that the expense claim included his partner’s meal (whether under a misunderstanding or otherwise), it is very unlikely the situation would have led to his dismissal.
The Citibank sandwich incident serves as a reminder of the need to maintain a sense of proportionality when assessing employee actions.
The importance of being honest
The Judge’s conclusions emphasise the importance of honesty and corporate accountability, which highlight that even the smallest of actions can have far-reaching consequences, especially in regulated industries.
In the end, the Citibank sandwich incident provides valuable insights into the world of corporate ethics, individual accountability, and the broader implications of actions that, at first glance, may seem inconsequential.
At Thrive Law, we understand that, sometimes, an employee’s behaviour or performance can fall below the expected standards. In these situations, we can help with ensuring that you know how to respond to and manage these difficulties, so that they are not allowed to escalate or get worse.
Please note this blog is for reference purposes only and is only accurate at which the date it was published. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any actions. Please contact us if you have any questions on email@example.com.