Irish Distillers has been ordered to pay €35,000 for sacking a worker who was late 91 times and was accused of using “offensive language” about a supervisor when he pulled her up for clocking in late after a night of “socialising”.
What evidence was found against the employee?
The employee was found to have a pattern of ‘unacceptable behaviour’ which involved arriving late to work 91 times, using extremely offensive language to describe her supervisor, and being so ‘extremely hungover’ that she was unable to start work even after clocking in late. The employee was found to have been late for work, unfit for work, and missing work entirely on many occasions.
When faced with warnings, the employee said she had “eight to 10 years of never being in trouble, had never got a warning, so I didn’t take the seriousness of it”. Her solicitor stated the alcohol had become a “crutch” for his client because of a long-standing anxiety disorder that saw her certified unfit for work the year before her sacking. He said that the employee had gone back to work but continued to struggle, with workplace stress and her “underlying mental health difficulties’ affecting her performance. The lawyer argued that the matter should have been dealt with by the Company’s HR department, not local management in Cork.
How did the employee win the case?
The case fell in favour of the employee due to the employer not following their disciplinary procedure correctly. For example, the ‘extremely offensive language to describe her supervisor’ was provided to the WRC tribunal in a written submission but not put into evidence.
The WRC adjudicator in the case wrote that Irish Distillers had relied on what it termed a “final written warning” issued in March 2019 for nine months that was still “live” on the employees’ file at the time of the last incident, both before the tribunal and in its internal processes.
The adjudicator wrote that the company handbook set out just three disciplinary sanctions before dismissal: a verbal warning for six months, a written warning for nine months, and a final written warning for 12 months. “There is no final written warning nine months in length in the employer’s handbook or policies. The firm’s action in treating the written warning as a final written warning “fundamentally undermines” its decision to dismiss the employee, and to uphold the decision on appeal. “It is hard to escape the conclusion that the respondent was largely improvising, instead of applying its own policies consistently and fairly,” she wrote, and added that the distillery’s management of the situation “does not stand up to scrutiny”. Therefore, the employee was awarded €35,000 on the grounds of unfair dismissal.
Like many other similar cases, this case reinforces the importance of employers ensuring their disciplinary procedure is followed accurately with all incidents and warnings recorded in writing.Like many other similar cases, this case reinforces the importance of employers ensuring their
disciplinary procedure is followed accurately with all incidents and warnings recorded in writing.