A Workplace Relations Commission ("WRC") Adjudicator has awarded a former Abbott employee ("the Complainant") compensation of €35,000 under the Unfair Dismissals Act (ADJ-00029045).
The Complainant was employed as a general operative, having originally commenced his employment in January 2006.
He was dismissed for gross misconduct in July 2020 due to use of an incorrect cleaning agent. This incident was considered by the Respondent to be one which compromised health and safety of the Respondent's fixtures at the plant.
The Complainant was subsequently placed on paid suspension, pending the outcome of the disciplinary process and ultimately dismissed for gross misconduct.
WRC Unfair Dismissal Claim
At the WRC, the Complainant asserted that his dismissal was unfair and, in particular, that the Respondent's finding of gross misconduct was entirely inappropriate and based on a disciplinary procedure that was fundamentally flawed.
The employer countered that the dismissal of the Complainant was fair, reasonable and proportionate, considering the severity of the misconduct. In this regard, the employer argued that the Complainant's failure to adhere to its procedures, including "detailed instructions" on the preparation of the fixtures that the Complainant was tasked with cleaning, resulted in an irreparable breakdown in the bond of trust and confidence which must exist between an employer and employee.
While the employer contended that its disciplinary process respected all the Complainant's due process rights, a significant procedural issue came to light during the hearing where it was established during cross-examination that the letter of dismissal erroneously stated that the Complainant had previously received a final written warning. This was noted by the Adjudication Officer as being "demonstrably untrue". It was clarified at the hearing that the Complainant had no prior disciplinary sanction on file at the date of dismissal.
The Adjudicator concluded that the misconduct issues for which the Complainant was dismissed "could not, in any circumstance, be considered gross misconduct by a reasonable employer".
The Adjudicator noted that during more than 14 years in his employment, the Complainant completed a "vast amount of production processes" without any issue being raised by the employer, and also noted the absence of any evidence that his work was "anything other than exemplary".
As a result, the Adjudicator awarded the Complainant compensation of €35,000.
It is also interesting that the Adjudicator declined the Complainant's request to be re-instated or re-engaged on the basis that the employer did not wish to renew the employment relationship with him.
This case serves as a reminder of the importance of ensuring that any sanction imposed by an employer is both proportionate and reasonable in the circumstances and that a finding of gross misconduct must be justified by the facts of the case. Additionally, only valid and existing prior sanctions can be taken into account by an employer in deciding on any further sanctions.
Written by Greta Siskauskaite and Cian Ronan
This document is for general guidance only and not intended as professional advice. Advice should always be taken before acting on any of the issues identified.
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