A firm has been left counting the cost after firing a cleaner who failed to pay for a bar of chocolate in a staff canteen.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ordered the facility services provider to pay the cleaner €5,600 after finding he was unfairly dismissed.

He was summarily dismissed on January 26 last year after failing to initially pay for a chocolate bar in the staff canteen the previous October.

The canteen has a cashless system and workers buy items with a card. The employee took the chocolate without initially paying as he had only 35c left on his card.

He sat down to have his break, and it was only after he was approached by a canteen employee that he borrowed a colleague’s card and paid for the item.

No parties are named in the case.

In her ruling, WRC adjudicator Aideen Collard found the decision by the firm’s sector director to dismiss the worker at a disciplinary hearing to be a fundamental procedural flaw.

It was “indicative of predetermination without taking any time to consider his responses or whether a lesser form of disciplinary action would be appropriate”, she ruled.

Ms Collard said that, having found both the substantive decision to dismiss and the procedures adopted to be objectively unreasonable and unfair, “I am satisfied that the employer has not discharged the onus of showing that the worker’s dismissal was fair”.

Ms Collard added that, in circumstances where it is undisputed that the worker had drawn negative attention to himself meriting a complaint from the canteen company to his employer, “I am satisfied that he contributed to some degree to the circumstances giving rise to his dismissal and consequent losses”.

Counsel on behalf of the worker submitted that the company’s dismissal “was totally disproportionate to the alleged conduct in question”.

It was accepted that he had taken only a bar of chocolate, which he had paid for before leaving the canteen, and this could not amount to theft.

In his evidence, the worker confirmed he had no intention of stealing the chocolate, having sat near the tills and paid for it before leaving the vicinity.

He had not appreciated how serious the matter was and, while he knew he was in trouble, did not believe his job was at risk.

After being approached by a site manager over the incident, the man said he felt humiliated and in a “panic situation”.