Employee Loses Unfair Dismissal Claim After Dismissal for Refusal to Work Christmas Day

Christmas and the holiday season is a time where everyone wishes to take time off and spend it with their family and go through their annual traditions. However, for many businesses there is no time off. Several industries, such as hotels, care homes, etc. work as normal all over the Christmas period whereas other companies may have some employees on call instead. Indeed, in the case of White -v- Balfour Beatty CLG Limited (UD888/2013) the EAT had to consider the fairness of the employer’s decision to dismiss an employee after he had refused to work an on call shift on Christmas Day.

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Budget 2015: The Impact on Employers

Euro

The Budget affects everyone and there is no escaping from it. However, the vast majority of employers are not concerned with discussions on the duty on a 20-pack of cigarettes increasing by €0.40c. Therefore, Peninsula Ireland has put together this short synopsis of the Budget and its impact on ‘employers’.

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Employee wins unfair dismissal claim despite “clearly unacceptable” behaviour

If there is one thing that employment law has shown over the years it is that gross misconduct can be a rare and elusive thing. Indeed, in the case of Feery -v- Oxigen Environmental T/A Oxigen (UD184/2013) the Employment Appeals Tribunal stated that an employee’s abusive conduct on a phone call was “clearly unacceptable” but still found such conduct to fall short of gross misconduct, awarding the employee €6,500 for unfair dismissal. In this article we look at the lessons that can be learned.

Background & Sickness Absence

The employee in this case worked at a general operative level within the respondent company and had effectively worked at a recycling site in Edenderry since 2006. The employee was dismissed for unacceptable conduct during a telephone conversation between the employee and various members of management.

In and around April or May 2012 it was alleged that the employee had possibly strained his back while maneuvering some goods. The employee stated that the back injury did not improve and he was attending his GP on an on-going basis and to this end had been out sick for a full week for which he had expected to be paid.

The accepted that the employee believed he would be paid for the week he was out on certified sick leave but noted that this expectation may have been unwarranted as the company gave evidence to the effect that such a payment is entirely at the discretion of management. To confuse matters, the employee had actually been paid for two days’ sick leave immediately after the accident which had given rise to his back complaints.

Heated Discussion

Having taken the issue up with his line manager, the EAT heard that the employee had taken the view that the company were not paying him for the week as they did not a back injury had ever occurred. According to evidence, there was no doubt that the employee over-reacted in this respect and this manifested itself in an unfortunate phone call to the payroll manager. The tone and content of this phone call were clearly unacceptable and the payroll manager was certainly shaken. That said, the employee was advised by the said payroll manager that no accident report form had ever been prepared and/or filed and one would be needed to sanction sick pay for the time off.

The Employer’s Perspective

As it happened, the HR Manager intercepted the phone call and confirmed to the employee that there was no evidence that there had ever been an accident and it seems he had made enquiries about this fact just prior to intercepting the call. The EAT was informed that the employee did not temper his tone when talking to the HR Manager and the conversation ended abruptly when the employee heatedly hung up the phone. The company took the view that the employee lost his temper and behaved in a way that was unacceptable to his work colleagues.

The Employee’s Perspective

On the other hand, the EAT considered the matter from the employee’s point of view and in particular the underlying suggestion that the employee was lying about having had an accident in April 2012. At the time, the employee had gone out on two days’ sick leave for which he was paid. The EAT held that if there was no accident report form then the employee cannot be held responsible as his line manager knew or ought to have known that the employee had hurt himself and was out of work as a result. In short, the employee had an expectation that he would be paid for a week’s sick leave and rather than being told that this would not happen and the reasons that this decision was being made he was left to find out for himself. In addition to the fact of the loss of a much needed week’s wages the employee was made to feel by his line manager, and the payroll manager and the HR manager that he had fabricated his back injury.

Previous Disciplinary Record

The EAT also considered the employee’s employment as a whole and noted that the employee had a clean disciplinary record and that he had worked hard in increasingly adverse economic conditions as evidenced by the fact that wholesale pay cuts were being implemented in the workplace in 2012.

Conclusion

On balance, the Tribunal found that the employee was unfairly dismissed. In awarding compensation, the Tribunal took into account the fact that the employee’s behaviour was still unacceptable and as such reduced his award to €6,500. The important points that we can learn from this case are as follows:

  • Always consider any disciplinary matter from the employee’s point of view; don’t fall into the trap of only looking at an incident from a “company policy” or a principled point of view.
  • Do consider the employee’s length of service and whether or not they have a clean disciplinary record. If the employee has been working with you for a long time and never put a foot out of line then a tribunal is far less likely to deem gross misconduct to be a reasonable outcome following a once-off incident.
  • Remember that there is a high threshold on what constitutes “gross misconduct”.

Don’t readily assume that something is gross misconduct and do seek advices from the Peninsula 24 Hour Advice Service on 01 855 50 50. -


REAs Back on the Agenda

Government Seeking ChangeThe Minister for Business and Employment, Gerald Nash TD, announced this week that good progress is being made on the drafting new legislation to replace the Registered Employment Agreement system (REAs).

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Landmark Labour Court Decision on Minimum Wage for Overnight Workers

Legislative UpdateA hot topic at the moment in Irish employment law centres is the question of overnight workers, such as junior doctors, live-in care workers, etc., in the medical/care industry. No doubt the entire country was more than aware of the kerfuffle with the HSE when the junior doctors were alleging that their overnight working and long shifts were in breach of working time and rest break legislation. In a very important development, a recent ruling from the Labour Court has recommended that overnight workers are entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage in circumstances where they may not actually be working (e.g. sleepover) but are nevertheless required to be present at the place of work. Read the rest of this entry »


Recent EAT TUPE decision clearly restates the position on service provision contracts

Case Law PrecedentsTUPE has become very much a hot topic in Ireland with more and more cases being presented to the Rights Commissioner and EAT year on year. As such, Irish case law and precedent is still developing and in that respect it was ideal for employers, employees, and legal advisors alike to see the position of service provision contracts comprehensively addressed by the EAT in Cavan Industrial Cleaning Services Limited -v- 8 employees (TU29-TU36/2013).

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We’re Hiring! Employment Law Advocate

Peninsula Dublin OfficesSalary up to €35,000 – €40,000 depending on experience + Excellent benefits package This is a fantastic opportunity to work for Ireland’s and the UK’s leading provider of Employment Law, HR and Health and Safety Services. Established in 1983 and currently with over 27,000 clients and employing over 1000 people, Peninsula is the number 1 organisation in this field and we continue to grow our customer base year on year.

The role of the Employment Law Advocate is critical to the on-going success and future growth of Peninsula Business Services. You will receive EAT/LRC/Equality Tribunal/Labour Court and ERS cases allocated from the Legal Services Administration team, these cases can be located anywhere within the Republic of Ireland. You will be required to case manage the file fully from client inception stage through to any necessary hearings until the matter subject of the case file is concluded. This role is based in our office in East Point Business Park.

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