Asda worker who ‘deliberately’ obtained an additional refund for a toothbrush was unfairly dismissed

This case is a testament to the need to follow a fair procedure when addressing appeals and not to automatically say no to an appeal brought outside the appeal window.

Manjula Raj worked for Asda for 13 years from 18 February 2003 until her dismissal without notice on 3 December 2016.

On 23 November 2016, she returned an electric toothbrush bought from Asda on 15 October, saying she had lost the receipt.

She told the customer service desk employee that she had forgotten its cost.

She did not present her staff discount card and her colleague gave her a £35 gift card refund.

However, a CCTV recording showed that Raj had then immediately bought some bread from the same customer service desk colleague, using her discount card to obtain a 10 percent discount.

On 30 November, Raj was challenged at an Asda investigative meeting over receiving a £35 refund when she paid £13.50 for the item and for producing her discount card to buy bread but not for the refund.

In mitigation she suggested confusion over the returned item barcodes, believing there to be a mistake.

In addition, she explained that she hadn’t removed the “reduced” sticker on the returned item – it must have been her husband.

When asked why she had not produced the discount card for the refund, she apologised, saying she had forgotten it.

Raj was invited to a disciplinary hearing by a letter dated 30 November.

The letter alleged that Raj “misused” the discount card and obtained a higher refund in a “deliberate attempt to defraud the company”.

The letter added that these were considered to be gross misconduct offences which, if proven, may result in her summary dismissal.

At a December 2016 disciplinary hearing, Raj explained that there was definite confusion over the price of the returned goods.

The price on the till when she had sought the refund was £75 and, as she thought that was incorrect, said she had paid £30 to £35, hence the £35 refund – she had forgotten its original reduced price.

During the hearing, Raj also presented a letter in which she apologised and stated that she had made a mistake but noted her long service and punctuality.

However, the disciplinary chairperson concluded that Raj had “deliberately obtained a higher refund than she was entitled to” in “an act of fraud”.

He doubted the “very substantial” reduction from £75 to £13.50 and her forgetfulness regarding the discount card.

She was dismissed summarily for gross misconduct.

Raj appealed her dismissal stating that she had “always been a hardworking colleague and helped out on various occasions”.

However, Raj was refused an appeal, with those overseeing the process saying her appeal grounds had been submitted too late, as her 5 January 2017 letter had not been received until 9 January – outside a specified 7-day deadline.

This was the decision found to be unfair.

The Tribunal found Asda’s lack of appeal offer unreasonable and unfair and that the response of a reasonable employer.

Her dismissal was determined unfair on that basis.