An employment tribunal in the UK has ruled that a major bank was entirely within its right to fire an employee who had illicitly expensed his partner’s lunch to the bank, and then lied about it.

Szabolcs Fekete, a financial crime analyst who had been working at Citibank for seven years, went on a business trip to Amsterdam in 2022. Upon his return, he requested a refund for two sandwiches, two coffees and two pasta dishes – one penne, one bolognaise.

However, the double serving of every items raised Citibank’s suspicions, prompting it to seek clarification that he had in fact consumed all the food he was seeking reimbursement for.

Mr Fekete replied: “I was on the business trip by myself and… I had two coffees as they were very small.

“On that day I skipped breakfast and only had one coffee in the morning. For lunch I had one sandwich with a drink and one coffee in the restaurant, and took another coffee back to the office with me and had the second sandwich in the afternoon… which also served as my dinner.”

He added: “All my expenses are within the €100 daily allowance. Could you please outline what your concern is as I don’t think I have to justify my eating habits to this extent.”

However, Citibank responded by saying that the issue was not with the total cost, but rather with whether the claim breached its policy prohibiting the reimbursement of partners’ travel and meal.

The policy also requires the listing of all attendants whose meals are submitted for reimbursement.

The matter was kicked upwards to the bank’s security and investigations department, which also asked Mr Fekete whether he had in fact shared the pasta dishes with his partner.

Again, Mr Fekete denied doing so.

However, he later admitted to doing just that, claiming that he was passing through a difficult time following the death of his grandmother. He said he had taken six weeks of medical leave and was on strong medication when he sent his initial replies.

Despite his attempted justifications, Citibank fired Mr Fekete, who then took the bank to court for unfair and wrongful dismissal.

However, the judge said that the dismissal was not just about the claim in itself, but also about his conduct after suspicions had been raised.

“The claimant was employed in a position of trust in a global financial institution,” said the judge. “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.”

However, Mr Fekete failed to make a “full and frank disclosure at the first opportunity”, breaking that trust, and thereby giving legal grounds to Citibank to terminate his employment.

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