In a recent employment tribunal, Citibank secured a win after the dismissal of an employee, Szabolcs Fekete, who had been accused of gross misconduct related to dishonest expense claims.
The case centred around Mr. Fekete’s claim for expenses incurred during a business trip, which included sandwiches and coffee for his partner, as well as misleading statements about the matter.
Szabolcs Fekete, who had been with Citibank for seven years, working as an analyst specialising in financial crime, was fired last year, leading to his allegations of unfair dismissal against the banking giant. The contentious issue arose when he sought reimbursement for expenses related to a business trip to Amsterdam from July 3 to July 5.
Initially, Mr. Fekete claimed that he had consumed two sandwiches, two coffees, and two pasta dishes during his work-related stay in Amsterdam. However, this story took a dramatic turn when he later admitted that his partner had shared some of these meals with him.
The manager got involved
The discrepancy in Mr. Fekete’s expense claims triggered an inquiry by the manager responsible for processing his claim. In email correspondence outlined in the employment tribunal’s ruling, Mr. Fekete stated, “I was on the business trip by myself and… I had 2 coffees as they were very small.” He further elaborated on his meal consumption during the trip.
Citibank’s concerns did not revolve around the monetary amount but instead centered on whether the claim violated the bank’s expense management policy. This policy explicitly stated that spousal travel and shared meals were not eligible for reimbursement. Furthermore, the policy stipulated that all individuals who had shared meals must be listed in the claim.
In response to these concerns, Citibank escalated the matter to its security and investigations services department. During questioning, Mr. Fekete initially denied sharing meals with his partner. However, he later confessed to having done so. He cited personal difficulties, including the recent death of his grandmother, six weeks of medical leave, and strong medication usage as factors affecting his responses to the bank’s inquiries.
Despite these explanations, Citibank proceeded with Mr. Fekete’s dismissal, leading him to file a legal case for unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal against the bank.
The case was not solely about the monetary amounts involved
In the judgment, Employment Judge Illing, whose decision was first reported by the Financial Times, ruled in favor of Citibank. The judge emphasised that the case was not solely about the monetary amounts involved but about the integrity of Mr. Fekete’s expense claims and his subsequent conduct. Judge Illing noted that Mr. Fekete had failed to provide a full and honest disclosure at the outset and had not responded directly to questions. Given Mr. Fekete’s position of trust within a global financial institution, the judge concluded that there was an obligation for him to admit his error and rectify the situation promptly.
Judge Illing explained, “I am satisfied that even if the expense claim had been filed under a misunderstanding, there was an obligation upon the claimant to own up and rectify the position at the first opportunity. I accept that the respondent requires a commitment to honesty from its employees.”
Citibank expressed satisfaction with the tribunal’s decision, with a spokesperson stating, “We are pleased with the decision.”
This case serves as a reminder of the significance of transparency and adherence to corporate policies in financial institutions, especially for employees in positions of trust and responsibility.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.