Petty theft from work fridge no grounds for dismissal without notice

The Labor Court Hamburg (Arbeitsgericht Hamburg, ArbG) ruled on 1 July 2015 (docket number: 27 Ca 87/15) that while petty theft can generally justify a dismissal for cause,  it may be disproportionate after considering all relevant circumstances.


In this case, the employee, working as a nurse in the emergency department at a hospital, took eight sandwiches, which were provided exclusively for the external workers of the fire department in a separate recreation room, to share with her colleagues. Even though the employee knew that the sandwiches belonged to the paramedics, she argued that it was permissible to eat them in exceptional cases. The employee also argued that due to the fact that the hospital`s bakery was on another floor, it would otherwise not have been possible for her to stay at the emergency department level during her shift break, as the defendant had instructed her.


Even though the court held that taking low value goods can justify a dismissal, it did not uphold the termination in this case. According  to the court the termination was, considering all the circumstances, disproportionate. The employer had to take into account that the plaintiff, who had worked for the employer for more than 23 years, acted openly and also in favor of her colleagues. Furthermore, the employee had admitted her mistake. With regard to these points and also taking into account social considerations, the court stated that a warning letter (Abmahnung) would have been a milder and sufficient measure.