BBC Radio Shropshire - Expenses Discussion

In the wake of the scandal currently surrounding MP's expenses claims the Eric Smith Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Shropshire, spoke to members of the public to find out what their views were and John Merry, Partner and head of LB's employment law department, was on hand to provide informative advice.

Members of the public were asked their thoughts on inflating expense claims and taking employers property.  Many of these expressed the view that they saw such things as adding a few miles to an expense claim, or even taking property such as toilet rolls, bin bags and even tools as a perk of the job.

John then informed listeners that deliberately inflating expense claims or taking property belonging to employers constituted theft, whilst over claiming expenses by way of a genuine oversight was a performance issue.

Employees in the first year of their employment need to be especially aware as they do not have unfair dismissal protection and are therefore particularly vulnerable to dismissal in the event of so much of a suspicion regarding their expenses or the taking of property, no matter the extent of the evidence or of the error or wrongdoing - although employers need to prove that it is more likely than not that there has been dishonesty or gross negligence if it is to lawfully deprive the employee of notice of dismissal or notice pay.

After year one the law of unfair dismissal applies. However, employers need only demonstrate - after the conducting of a reasonable investigation and procedure - a reasonable belief in dishonesty or gross negligence in order for a dismissal to be fair. In other words, subject to a proper procedure being followed - consistent with the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, and otherwise the employer's own procedures - a dismissal will be fair unless it can be said that no reasonable employer would have dismissed in the circumstances.

Where there is a reasonable belief in dishonesty, it will usually be difficult for an employment tribunal to criticise a decision to dismiss. Where an employer believes the employee's made a genuine mistake, other than in extreme cases, a mere warning will usually be appropriate.