In a stylish hotel in the centre of Warsaw there is a laundry where, as usual for such places, linen and uniforms of the hotel’s staff are washed. High-quality industrial chemicals are used at the laundry which are not available in regular stores. One of the employees was very impressed with the efficacy of the chemicals used and decided to “borrow” some for her own use at home.

The manager of the hotel discovered the employee’s behaviour though normal monitoring of its laundry.  Employees are obliged to respect the interests of the work establishment and protect the employer’s property under Article 100 of the Polish Labour Code.  Even though this violation of that Article on the part of the employee would have justified terminating her employment contract without notice and with immediate effect, the manager decided to give her a chance to explain. After all, aside from this incident, she was a good employee – punctual, accurate and willing to work flexible hours. The employee was surprised to be accused of stealing and tried to play down the significance of the “small loans.” She asked, “What does my one load of laundry matter in comparison with the enormity of the hotel’s laundry?”, but nonetheless promised that it would not happen again.

And she meant it – the employee did not take any more chemicals from the hotel’s laundry. After a few months, however, the employee’s supervisor discovered that she was now bringing in her own private dirty linen to wash it at the hotel’s laundry instead. A clever move, perhaps, since it would surely be impossible for the hotel to show that it had lost out, or extra cost had been incurred, as a result of her actions.  In addition, she had honoured fully the promise made not to take the hotel’s stocks home with her.  Since the manager had chosen not to dismiss for the original theft, could he do so now?

Yes.  Polish labour law does not dictate the use of warnings pre-dismissal, especially where the conduct breached Article 100 so clearly.   It was his decision to allow the employee that second chance (though I imagine he now regrets it) and the law would not prevent the manager from returning to the original reason if that chance were abused.

As a second consideration, even though the employee’s use of the hotel’s laundry would have caused no identifiable loss or damage, it was still dishonest.   After all, if all the hotel staff used its facilities for their personal benefit in that way, there would have been a clear cost to it.  If it could not be allowed for everyone then it could not be allowed for anyone and the employee must have known that.

However, under Polish law, even if the misconduct after the second chance warning had not been so serious as to justify dismissal by itself, as here, the manager could still have used that lesser bad behaviour as a trigger to terminate the employment for the first offence.  Once Article 100 has been breached, the employer should not be deterred from allowing a second chance by the fear that the grounds to terminate the contract may thereby be lost.