As widely reported in the media and on the BBC news, a trainee manager at the Manchester branch of Hawksmoor, an upmarket chain specialising in steaks and seafood, had picked up a bottle of what looked to her like it was the wine the customers had ordered and passed this to the waitress to serve to them.
It transpired that the lucky diners were mistakenly given a bottle of Chateau le Pin Pomerol 2001, priced on the menu at an astonishing £4,500. The restaurant confirmed that the wine the customers had actually ordered was a Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2001 for £260. Whilst there is speculation that the diners had possibly been attendees at the BIBA conference in Manchester which took place on that day, the diners’ identity is still unknown.
The restaurant management advised the hapless manager on Twitter to keep their “chin up”, adding that “one-off mistakes happen and we love you anyway”.
As in this case, an employer may graciously accept an error made by an employee in good faith without recrimination (either for "PR" purposes to demonstrate to the public at large that they are an understanding employer, or for other reasons).
However, where an employer finds that an employee is responsible for a costly mistake, either through proven negligence or deliberate wrongdoing, where the contract of employment contains an appropriately worded “deduction from earnings clause”, or where there is a prior written agreement to deduct a loss from salary, which is in existence before the discovery of the incident to which the deduction relates, the employer may choose to deduct a sum equivalent to all or some of the employer’s loss from the employee’s wages. This may be done after carrying out an investigation into the circumstances.
For retail staff any amount deducted from wages cannot exceed 10% of salary, with the exception of deductions from final pay. Gross negligence may also constitute grounds for a gross misconduct summary dismissal where it is so serious as to irreparably damage trust and confidence in the employment relationship.
It's advisable to obtain legal advice on your specific circumstances before you dismiss an employee.
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Dishonesty and other deliberate actions which poison the [employment] relationship will obviously fall into the gross misconduct category, but so in an appropriate case can an act of gross negligence.