Workplace Relations Commission: Farm manager who accused employer of fraud loses unfair dismissals case

Workplace Relations Commission
Workplace Relations Commission

A farm manager who was employed by a food company for over ten years before he was summarily dismissed has had his complaint under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 dismissed.

The complainant alleged that his dismissal was based on his refusal to sign fraudulent claim forms for EU payments, and that the dismissal process was biased and unfair from the outset; however, Adjudication Officer Gerry Rooney found that the process was detailed, proportionate, and extensive.

Finding that the company was in breach of Payment of Wages Act 1991 in one aspect of the complaint, Adjudication Officer Rooney directed the company to pay the man almost seven months’ wages for the period of suspension during the investigation process.

Complaint under Section 8 of the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977

The complainant alleged that the basis of his dismissal was due to his refusal to sign fraudulent claims made by the respondent for EU payments. He said that following his refusal to sign the claim forms, he was subject to bullying and harassment from his manager, and had to attend a disciplinary meeting in May 2016. Thereafter, he took sick leave until February 2017. When he returned to work, he was suspended on pay and was then not paid until he was dismissed in August 2017.

The complainant maintained from the outset the process was biased and unfair. In particular, he contended that the managers conducting the investigation, the disciplinary hearing, and the appeal hearing had a predetermined outcome. As such, the complainant submitted that he was unfairly dismissed due to the flawed procedures afforded to him.

Adjudication Officer Rooney said that the procedures were detailed, proportionate, and extensive – including a separate investigation process where the complainant chose not to be represented and where he did not attend a final investigation meeting. The process then progressed to a four-day disciplinary meeting where the complainant was legally represented. The outcome of the process found that the complainant had breached 18 of the 28 allegations against him.

The complainant was then afforded an appeal process where he was legally represented throughout. Adjudication Officer Rooney said this was a detailed process, the outcome of which was that 14 of the allegations were upheld as being breaches of serious misconduct.

Adjudication Officer Rooney said that in the Workplace Relations Commission, the complainant sought to re-open some of the substantive evidence related to the disciplinary and appeal hearings, and sought to have some of the substantive matters reconsidered. However, he said it was not the role of the Adjudicator to conduct a disciplinary investigation or an appeal of substantive matters. Rather, under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977, the role of Adjudicator is to “consider whether the acts or omissions of the employer could be deemed to have reasonably contributed to an unfair dismissal, and/or whether the dismissal was due to the conduct of the employee”.

Adjudication Officer Rooney was satisfied that the complainant was provided with adequate opportunity and procedures to present his response to the allegations and that a very detailed investigation, disciplinary process, and appeal process was afforded to the complainant. It was clear that the process uncovered serious misconduct, and, in accordance with its own procedures and the contract of employment, the respondent was entitled to summarily dismiss the complainant. Satisfied that the complainant was afforded fair procedures prior to his dismissal, Adjudication Officer Rooney dismissed this complaint.

Complaint under section 6 of the Payment of Wages Act 1991

The complainant submitted that he was due €40,487 – consisting of his performance bonus and sick pay, both of which he did not receive.

The complainant maintained that during 2012/13 he had taken sick leave for a back injury, and that in 2014 he took sick leave with cancer – and that during both of these periods he received his full sick pay and health insurance contributions “without any questions”.

The first issue under this heading was the non-payment when he was on sick leave from May 2016 to February 2017. Adjudication Officer Rooney said that the company policy was to apply a discretionary sick pay scheme and that its decision not to pay the complainant during this period of absence was because he had not co-operated with the respondent by refusing to attend absence management meetings and medical appointments that had been arranged with the company GP. As such, Adjudication Officer Rooney found that the company was not in breach of its sick pay scheme.

The second issue under this heading was the non-payment when the complainant was suspended during the disciplinary investigation and subsequent process. Adjudication Officer Rooney said that payment was dependant on co-operating with the investigation. Finding that it was credible to say the complainant did not attend one of the initial meetings due to the fact that the invitation letter was sent to the wrong house, Adjudication Officer Rooney noted that the complainant did co-operate with the investigation once this matter was addressed.

As such, Adjudication Officer Rooney directed the respondent to pay the complainant compensation for the wages for each week he was not paid during the period of his suspension, between 9 February up to 29 August 2017.

Complaint under Section 11 of the Minimum Notice & Terms of Employment Act 1973

The complainant sought pay in lieu of the appropriate notice under the Minimum Notice & Terms of Employment Act 1973, which states under Section 4 (d) that “an employer shall, in order to terminate the contract of employment of an employee who has been in his continuous service for a period of ten years or more, but less than fifteen years, provide six weeks” notice.

Since the complainant was not found to be subject to unfair dismissal and where he was summarily dismissed following a fairly conducted extensive investigation and disciplinary process, Adjudication Officer Rooney did not uphold this complaint.

  • by Róise Connolly for Irish Legal News

© Irish Legal News Ltd 2020

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