Reason for Denying Unemployment Benefits Sounded Fishy

March 20, 2009 ( - A worker accused by his company of stealing a tuna sandwich has been granted unemployment benefits.

According to the New York Times, the Union Square Whole Foods Market claims Ralph Reese was fired for fishing a tuna sandwich out of the trash at the end of his shift as a deli clerk, in violation of store procedure. A spokeswoman for the store told the New York Times that the store does encourage employees to try its foods, but there is a defined procedure that they must ask their supervisor, the food is logged and accounted for, and the servings are typically sample-size.

New York State denied Reese unemployment benefits, ruling that the tuna sandwich episode was misconduct, based on Whole Foods’ statement about the trash. However, Reese has a different version of the story.

Reese says he was throwing out 30 sandwiches at the end of the shift, and he put the tuna sandwich aside on the counter in plain view. When the supervisor confronted him about it, he said it was going to be thrown out and he was going to eat it, but the supervisor then threw the sandwich out.

Reese says his previous supervisor in the grocery department allowed employees to take damaged food. “They can’t sell them,” Reese said, in the news report. “They can only write them off as a loss. That is why they throw them out. That is why they don’t mind giving it to us.”

Reese said he had not fished the sandwich out of the garbage, and he openly admitted he was planning to eat it. He took his unemployment benefit claim to court.

In February, an administrative law judge sided with Reese, noting he did not eat the food without paying for it and that he did not take the food out of the store. Given the fact that Reese did not have any prior record of warnings, it was seen as an “isolated instance of poor judgment which does not rise to the level of misconduct,” the judge said, according to the news report.