Labour Court: Man awarded €20,000 for unfair dismissal from call centre



A man who was dismissed from his position at a call centre in Cork has been awarded €20,000 in the Labour Court.

Overturning the decision of the Workplace Relations Commission to dismiss the man’s claim, Chairman Alan Haugh found several issues with the disciplinary procedure which led to the dismissal and commented that there may have been an “impetus at work” within the company to ensure the man’s demise.

Background

In February 2013, Ibrahim Salah commenced employment with RCI Call Centre (Ireland) Ltd, a holiday exchange provider. Mr Salah was employed at RCI’s call centre in Cork, where he worked as part of RCI’s Italian team. Mr Salah’s starting gross base salary was €20,500, and he had the potential to earn up to €39,000 with RCI’s Incentive Scheme.

In April 2016, Mr Salah had a heated argument with a colleague, which resulted in a disciplinary investigation conducted by Operations Manager, Ms C. Mr Salah was issued with a final written warning. He appealed to Head of Operations, Mr L, however the sanction was upheld.

On 7 December 2016, Mr Salah ran into further trouble when he referred to a customer as an “impolite animal”, resulting in a heated exchange between Mr Salah and a number of his colleagues. During this exchange, Mr Salah used the word “cazzo” (a rude Italian word) which was heard by a customer whose call had been put on speaker-phone.

RCI conducted an investigation, which was carried out by Ms C and a member of HR. During the investigation, a further two allegations were put to Mr Salah in relation to matters which RCI submits came to light in the course of a routine audit:

  1. That he had dropped thirteen calls between 21 November and 9 December 2016; and
  2. That he had conducted an unauthorised transaction with a customer in early December 2016.

After Ms Condor’s final report was issued in February 2017, Mr L conducted a disciplinary hearing. Mr Lombard upheld all of the allegations against Mr Salah, whose dismissal was confirmed by letter dated 9 February 2017. Mr Salah’s appeal against that decision was unsuccessful.

Unfair Dismissal

Thereafter, Mr Salah brought a complaint seeking adjudication by the Workplace Relations Commission under Section 8 of the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977. In June 2018, Adjudication Officer Patsy Doyle dismissed the complaint (ADJ-00008547).

In the Labour Court, Mr Salah’s appeal against that decision was heard by Chairman Alan Haugh.

Chairman Haugh said it was significant that neither of the customers central to the two telephone calls on 7 December 2016 made any complaint against Mr Salah, nor were they interviewed by the investigation team. Chairman Haugh said that this, “coupled with the introduction mid-process, of two additional disciplinary allegations” against Mr Salah, led him “to question whether or not there was an impetus at work within [RCI], for whatever reason, to build as strong as case as possible against [Mr Salah] in order to ensure his demise”.

In Redmond on Dismissal Law (Bloomsbury Professional 2017), it states:

“Heavy emphasis has been laid in recent case law on the duty on an employer to set out clearly allegations made against an employee from the outset, with the employer not being permitted to augment the allegations as the investigation progresses. This is because an employee is entitled to be informed at the outset of the complaint(s) being made against him or her in order to ensure he or she has a meaningful opportunity to prepare and present his or her defence.”

With this in mind, Chairman Haugh noted that Mr Salah “was not informed at the outset of the investigation of all of the allegations ultimately raised against him”. he said that this raised a question “as to whether or not he was afforded a proper and meaningful opportunity to present his defence to them. The allegations were based in some cases on incomplete transcripts of telephone calls and/or translations of those calls that were of questionable quality”.

Further, Chairman Haugh was not satisfied that Mr L “could have given sufficient consideration to the allegations and the findings made following the investigation stage, such as to justify his decision to dismiss [Mr Salah] with pay in lieu of notice, in circumstances where the disciplinary hearing lasted barely twenty minutes and [Mr L] was in a position to communicate that decision just over three hours later”. Having considered how Mr L’s reasoning for arriving at that decision, Chairman Haugh said it was likely Mr L did not give sufficient consideration to imposing any lesser sanction on Mr Salah.

Finally, Chairman Haugh said it was “of some concern” that both Ms C and Mr L “had previously been involved at different stages of other disciplinary proceedings” concerning Mr Salah.

Finding that Mr Salah was unfairly dismissed, Chairman Haugh set aside the decision of the Adjudication Officer and awarded compensation of €20,000 to Mr Salah.

© Irish Legal News Ltd 2020



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