Three boxes of milk chocolates, valued at R103.98, have resulted in a legal battle spanning more than six years, several judgments and the dismissal of a Pick n Pay employee with more than 24 years’ service.

This was in addition to costing the parties dearly in legal fees.

The chocolate dilemma started in January 2014, when an elderly and long-standing customer of Pick n Pay in Gezina bought three boxes of chocolates for three of her favourite employees.

Magrieta Erasmus handed them over to Yoliswa Maluleke, who was to take one and give the others to their intended recipients.

At the time, Maluleke had been working for the supermarket giant for 24 years. She was promoted in 2010 as an E-service manager at the Gezina branch. This entailed her operating a till and training other employees in company procedures, including the return and exchange of goods.

However, after receiving the chocolates, Maluleke processed a refund for the boxes by completing the returns book. She identified a Mr Maphanga, a merchandise superviser for which one of the boxes were meant, as the customer who had returned the boxes.

She also processed the refund at her till without authorisation by the store manager, as it is practice to do. Nor did she declare the gifts, as per store policy.

Maluleke, in retrospect, called the manager to authorise the refund, but he refused as it was not done in accordance with the store policy as workers could not return goods bought by a customer.

Faced with a dilemma, Maluleke cancelled the refund slip and reversed the transaction using the password of another employee. But as the initial transaction was illicit, she faced a disciplinary hearing for misconduct.

She explained that she did not want the money but wanted to exchange the box of chocolates for tissue paper. She said her other colleague, who was also due to get a box, wanted her to exchange it for maize meal.

Maluleke said it was common practice to do this, although against the rules. However, she was convicted of misconduct and dismissed. She filed an unfair dismissal complaint with the CCMA and the issue went to arbitration. The commissioner confirmed her dismissal was fair.

This led to a review application before the Labour Court to set aside the CCMA’s finding. The court found she had acted contrary to Pick n Pay’s policies regarding the exchange of gifts but as she had been an outstanding worker for decades at the retailer, she should be awarded another chance but be demoted.

Pick n Pay turned to the Labour Appeal Court, which upheld Maluleka’s dismissal. It said what made it even more “unpardonable” was that Maluleke did not show any contrition, as she had said what she had done was common practice.