A hospital porter sacked after being accused of stealing a £4 fried egg and bacon sandwich and a cup of tea when he forgot his wallet could spark a strike.
Aldren Tomlinson was fired from his job of 15 years at King George Hospital in east London, because he asked to pay for his lunch later after forgetting his money.
But two hours later the 45-year-old was told he would be suspended for stealing the cup of tea and a bacon and egg sandwich.
Aldren said he ordered before realising that he had forgotten his wallet so asked a chef if he could pay later and got a nod back in reply.
But his employers, hospitality outsourcing company Sodexo, disputed this and ruled at a disciplinary hearing he had not been given permission to take the refreshments.
The French multi-national company said the chef did not hear Aldren ask to pay later and he should have gone to a manager to get authorisation.
Father-of-three, Aldren, who is dyslexic, said: “I realised I forgot my wallet, I asked if I could pay later and the cashier said yes.
“Then at about 2.30pm later that day I was told there was an allegation of theft of food and drink and that I would be suspended.
“Then there was a hearing and I was sacked.
“I’m so angry, cross and so upset, it’s just unbelievable what has happened.”
He added: “I can’t sleep properly at night, I’m so worried about how I’m going to pay my rent, I’m thinking I have to sell my car.
“When they told me I lost my job I couldn’t stop crying.
“I can’t even think about what’s going to happen, I’m just thinking about my kids at the moment and about how I’m going to support after my family.
“It’s literally so stressful, I don’t know how I’m going to cope, it’s a nightmare.
“I’ve never been accused of stealing in my life, I pay my own way.”
Aldren was sacked for gross misconduct by a disciplinary panel in line with its zero tolerance policy on February 7.
It concluded: “The management stated that you had been seen taking food from the restaurant without paying for it, two witness statements one stated that you had asked for a fried egg, serving yourself other items from the counter in a takeaway box and made a tea, not hearing what you said, walked away and past the till not paying.
“The other witness on the till stated that you had approached to obtain a knife and fork only.”
It noted he had apologised and in mitigation “stated that you had said that you were hungry from dealing with a domestic issue the night before and that you had arrived realising you had no money to pay.
“Additionally you stated that there was no evidence to suggest there had been other occasions, you had stated to the chef and received a nod that you took as an indication you could pay later.
“You also stated that it is normal for colleagues to assist each other in need and that the amount was not significant but acknowledged a breach of trust and confidence could exist between the parties and requested leniency.
“You stated that you did not wish the humiliation of asking colleagues to borrow money and stated you felt less embarrassed to deal with things in the manner described.
“It is clear that there was a misunderstanding although on balance the panel believes that the misunderstanding was yours in that a cursory comment and nod could be interpreted as requesting permission and receiving permission and confirmed.”
It added his “request was not directed at somebody in authority.”
Michael Dooley, GMB union representative for the Redbridge branch, said hospital workers would ballot strike action if he is not reinstated.
He said: “We believe the company may intimidate people and tell them that they will be sacked if they take part.
“They could claim they are bringing the company into disrepute, but the company are bringing themselves into disrepute by the way they are acting.
“We live in a free democratic country and people can protest so long as they do it on their own time.
“The company may not actually sack workers taking part in the protest, but it is the threat and intimidation they are using.
“But we are still expecting a good turnout because there is so much anger over what has happened.
“He has worked in the hospital for 15 years and was well-known and well-liked.”
Around 400 workers including nurses, porters and admin staff have signed a petition online and in person backing Aldren’s cause.
Michael added: “This is a French multi-national, they don’t care about the people of Ilford.
“The punishment doesn’t fit the crime – if there has even been a crime.
“A protest is the last resort to try and get them to reconsider, the last thing we want is to cause a strike in a hospital, but that is what will happen if Sondex don’t reinstate him.”
Aldren from Forest Gate, east London, is appealing the decision to dismiss him and a hearing is due to be held next Wednesday.