Theft of €0.03 plastic bag costs Action over €8000

A judge has ruled that the “theft” of a €0.03 plastic bag by an employee at discount chain Action is not fair cause for dismissal — and we are totally with the judge on this. Order in the court!

The Dutch are infamously stingy — but we think Action took it way too far in this case. An employee who took home a wafer-thin plastic bag (that costs the princely sum of three cents) was fired as part of the chain’s zero-tolerance policy. But come on, Action — it’s THREE cents.

Well, that wasn’t good enough for the discount retailer. Employees are encouraged to tattle on employees who steal anything — and that’s what happened. The 41-year-old store filler had purchased 20 rain ponchos, then took a bag. He spoke with another employee, and that employee went to management.

I’m going to repeat this here: the bag was three cents. The employee lost their job. 

Let’s pause for a moment, close our eyes. Now, raise your hand if you’ve ever (accidentally or on purpose) taken a plastic bag from a store and not scanned it. Open your eyes. Okay, you’re still alone, but if we were in a big conference room right now you would see EVERYONE has their hands up. 

Now, I’m not advocating stealing here. But let the punishment fit the crime. Three cents? Okay, work an extra minute at minimum wage. Done, the debt is paid — overpaid in fact.

action-store-bags
These bags are the luxury €0.39 version. Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

How the deed was done

The employee went on vacation and came back two weeks later where he was immediately pulled into a discussion with the HR advisor and the regional manager of Action. (What a great use of company resources!)

The employee admitted he had taken the bag, but said he had forgotten about it. Despite the employee having seven months left of his contract, he was fired immediately over “deliberate theft”.

Justice reigns

The employee though “Nah mate, this isn’t cool” and took Action to court. His argument:

  1. The bag is virtually free (a small reminder that the Netherlands literally don’t even use one and two cent coins anymore)
  2. The bags used to be free, but for environmental reasons now have to be sold for something.

The fired employee had worked at Action for a year and a half and had no other performance issues. His dismissal led to financial difficulties that were further compounded by the pandemic and his age.

Ultimately, the judge decided that the financial misery was not proportionate to the theft of the €0.03 bag. All hail the voice of reason!

Now, that €0.03 bag ended up costing Action €7,232.38 in salary and a transition allowance — plus a further €803 in legal costs. What am I forgetting? Oh, of course! The 0.03 bag. That’s a whopping €8035.41.

That leaves me with one question for Action: was it worth it?

What do you think of the case? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

Samantha Dixon 🇦🇺
Sam isn’t great at being Dutch. Originally hailing from Australia, she came to study in the Netherlands without knowing where the country was on a map. She once accidentally ordered the entire ice-cream menu at Smullers. She still can’t jump on the back of a moving bike. But, she remains fascinated by the tiny land of tall people.

5 COMMENTS

  1. In no way am I advocating theft, however petty, but supermarkets expect a certain amount of shoplifting from customers. Nicking a 3c polybag by staff is worth only a ticking-off, and black mark on their record, not dismissal.

  2. Theft is not defined by the value of the stolen item; taking that which you don’t have a right to is THEFT, the value of the item is immaterial. Setting a price tag on immorality is wrong. Wrong is wrong. What’s next; do you make a cost analysis on the value of a person who is murdered to determine if their life is “worth” prosecuting the killer? And if not, why not?

    How about cheating on a test? I gather you have no problem as long as the cheating represents no more than 3% of the total possible score. What about using known carcinogens in a food product to maximize shelflike; not a problem I imagine if it’s not more than.03% of the product by weight.

    Wrong is wrong. The person who lies only 3% of the time is still a liar. The thief who steals a plastic bag worth three cents is still a thief.

    • Glenn Christmas, I don’t mean to come across as arrogant, but it’s clear that you’ve never studied criminal law. In criminal law, there’s a principle called “proportional justice”. In sum, the severity of penalties must not be disproportionate to the criminal offense. So no, sorry, not all thefts are the same.

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