A DUNNES Stores employee sacked from her job after she was caught on camera eating €10 worth of chicken goujons and other hot food from the deli counter, has taken a case for unfair dismissal against the company.
Karen Deegan had worked in the Knocknacarra, Galway, branch of Dunnes for four years prior to losing her job in October 2011. She was one of up to nine employees to lose their jobs over eating unpaid-for food.
An employment appeals tribunal heard how management had installed a CCTV camera unbeknown to staff after an anonymous phone call to head office stated that staff at the deli counter were eating food.
On two separate days the camera recorded Ms Deegan eating food from the hot counter including chicken goujons, chicken wings and potato cubes. The value of the food came to a little more than €10.
Store manager Ken Teehan told the tribunal the incident had been a serious breach of company policy and resulted in the investigation meeting on October 7, 2011. During it, Ms Deegan readily admitted she had consumed the food and that it had been going on since the previous Christmas.
He said the matter was so serious that later that same day he began a disciplinary meeting with Ms Deegan. She was suspended on full pay and told to report back to the store the following day.
On that occasion, assistant store manager Louise Mannion completed the disciplinary meeting and took the decision to terminate Ms Deegan's employment.
The tribunal heard that for up to a year prior to this the store had a problem with food being taken from the deli without being paid for. But the extent of the problem only came to light after the CCTV camera had been installed and Ms Deegan was the first person caught.
Mr Teehan confirmed that seven or eight other employees were also found to be breaching policy in this manner and were also sacked.
He said that the market value of the food Ms Deegan had taken over the two days was estimated at between €10 and €13. He could not assess the value of the food taken over the prolonged period from the previous Christmas.
The tribunal heard how Ms Deegan had never had any previous issues during her employment and had enjoyed her work.
She told the tribunal that she had never thought her actions were in breach of the employee policy on eating unpaid-for food. "From the day I walked in there, people were taking a chip or something."
Ms Deegan added that she had been particularly stressed out that week and would have been eating much more that usual. "It wasn't an everyday thing. It might not have happened again for... I don't know," she said.
The tribunal retired to consider its verdict.