A SINGLE-MUM was sacked by Marks & Spencer after drinking a €2 cup of coffee and not paying for it.
Valerie Byrne lost her job after she admitted to drinking the coffee without paying at the M&S cafe counter at a Dublin outlet in September 2012.
A union official yesterday described the sacking as "very harsh" and said that Ms Byrne is a lone parent of a 16-year-old who worked for M&S for a number of years and had an excellent disciplinary record before the incident.
Mandate divisional organiser Michael Meegan said other options were open to M&S other than sacking Ms Byrne, and added that she is still out of work two years on.
Ms Byrne had been working as a sales assistant at the M&S coffee shop in Mary Street.
She was dismissed for gross misconduct and claimed unfair dismissal.
After a one-day hearing in Dublin, the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) commented that the circumstances surrounding Ms Byrne's dismissal on September 26, 2012 were "undeniably harsh".
However, it found that Ms Byrne's case for unfair dismissal failed after pointing out that she would have been aware that M&S was entitled to summarily dismiss an individual regardless of the minimal value of the dishonest act.
This was based on the company handbook issued to all employees warning of the consequences of any stepping out of line in relation to dishonesty.
The EAT said: "There can be no doubt that the policy within this company is that there is to be no toleration of theft, no matter what its form and no matter what its value.
"This fact would have been well known to the appellant who took a risk on the 26th day of September, 2012 when she made and consumed a hot drink without paying for same."
CCTV footage had shown Ms Byrne drinking a cup of coffee behind the cafe counter without having paid for it.
Mr Meegan said that both he and Ms Byrne "are surprised and disappointed by the tribunal ruling".
"A final written warning to Valerie or a suspension was open to M&S, but instead the firm sacked her over a €2 cup of coffee," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Irish arm of M&S said last night: "The tribunal upheld the decision and we would not comment any further."