Being a flight attendant isn’t easy.
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Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
All companies have rules.
Some of those rules might, to certain eyes, appear to have been created by a twisted mind.
However, those rules can be interpreted by minds that even Beelzebub might find twisted.
Please consider the story of Shannon Gleeson. A flight attendant for British airline easyJet, she has one annoying and, in some cases, potentially deadly condition — a nut allergy.
So there she was working on a flight where she apparently couldn’t find any food she could safely eat.
As the Daily Mail reports, her cabin manager gave her a bacon sandwich. This is an especially delicious British delicacy that involves putting bacon inside two slices of buttered bread — or, in this case, a baguette.
Now about that bacon sandwich. It belonged to easyJet and cost 4 British pounds and 50 British pence. That’s around $5.75.
Wait, why are we even talking about this? Well, one of the other crew members witnessed this “incident,” and reported it.
You can guess what happened next, can’t you? Gleeson was fired.
The airline said she’d failed in her duty to ask the manager for a receipt to prove the food had been paid for. Ergo, the reason for her firing was gross misconduct. Oh, and being an accomplice to theft. The cabin manager was fired too. He had eaten a croque monsieur.
The matter went to an employment tribunal. There, it emerged that easyJet didn’t actually have a way to track any food items that went astray. Oh, and there was also no written rule that covered cabin crew being given food.
Some might find a deliciousness in these words about the food “rules” from Ross Fraser, the manager who fired Gleeson: “It doesn’t say it in black and white, but the expectation is there. There is regular communication to all of the cabin crew.”
Perhaps it’s worth adding at this point that when Gleeson was first called in to explain herself to her manager, she offered to pay for the sandwich.
Let’s pause again for another quote from an easyJet manager, Paul Hinton: “I think there was an element of choice. There was an element of knowing the rules were not being followed. I believe Shannon was an accomplice in it.”
You might think that even if eating a sandwich was against the (unwritten) rules, the management might have found some lesser punishment than dismissal. Especially as Gleeson had worked for the airline for three years, without any problems whatsoever.
And more especially as she has a nut allergy.
The judge in the tribunal was possessed of helpings of nuance.
“The onus is on the purchaser to make the payment and I see no suggestion that the claimant was the purchaser,” he said.
He added: “She didn’t take it from the trolley. She wasn’t responsible for ensuring it was paid for. She accepted what had happened throughout and was open and honest.”
And, for good measure: “You have actually got to show some loss for there to be a theft. I see no evidence that anything was paid for or not paid for.”
The judge ended up not having to make a ruling, as the airline suddenly decided to settle the case.
I contacted easyJet to ask whether it had endured second thoughts about the way it had progressed the matter. I also asked whether it had changed its rules to make them more distinct. I’ll update, should I hear back.
The company did issue a statement about the matter saying: “easyJet has settled this matter with Ms. Gleeson and so cannot comment in any further detail other than to say that we have clear and well-understood policies and the honesty of our employees is really important.”
One can understand that retail establishments — which is what airlines have become — must be very careful about staff helping themselves to product.
It’s not, though, as if cabin crew members are paid the earth. And given the circumstances here, was there truly only black or white?
The case might remind some of the four Home Depot workers who helped catch a shoplifter and got fired because it was against the rules to help catch a shoplifter.
The interpretation of rules isn’t always easy. Some matters are clear, while many often have a muddiness to them.
Life, after all, is muddy and wrestling with that mud for a little while might get you better and more loyal employees in the future.
It’s the same with treating customers, too. Have a little time for understanding and the longer-term benefits can be considerable.
Many airlines don’t quite grasp that right now. They’re too busy grasping for the money.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.