An employee used the fuel card provided by her employer while on holiday, even though the employer had only agreed to cover the fuel expenses incurred for business purposes.
After being dismissed for gross misconduct, the employee challenged the validity of her termination before the Employment Tribunal. As a counterclaim, the employer required the back payment of the fuel expenses pertaining to the private travels of the employee.
The Court of appeal ruled that the dismissal was unfair arguing that the rules governing the use of the fuel card had been communicated to the employee too late so that she could not be aware that she was breaching internal rules while using the fuel card during her vacations.
The Court of appeal also dismissed the employer’s claim for reimbursement of the fuel costs.
The employer decided to appeal before the French Supreme Court which eventually gave merits to the employer’s claims based on the French civil code, according to which:
- What has been paid unduly is subject to recovery;
- The absence of any misconduct by the party who unduly paid a sum is not a condition for bringing an action for recovery of undue payment.
For the French Supreme Court, the fact that the employer failed to notify the conditions of use of the card in due time is not relevant. The employee does still owe the employer back payment of the undue sums, even if they were received by mistake and the employee was unaware that they were undue.