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Employee detained “against her will” in “volatile” firm wins award

A Dublin software company, Kingswood Computing, has been ordered by the Employment Appeals Tribunal to pay €26,445 in compensation to a technical support worker, who was held against her will in a room by her employer.

In her evidence to the Tribunal, the claimant gave details of a highly abnormal working environment characterised by a highly volatile relationship between the owner and his daughter, who also worked in the business.

According to the claimant, “on a daily basis, they (father and daughter) would aggressively argue, shout and curse at each other”. The “constant arguments made the claimant very uncomfortable and it started to affect her ability to do her job and her well being”.

The claimant detailed incidents where the owner’s daughter punched her desk and threw her office chair. On one occasion, the daughter asked the owner not to hit her “so he dragged her to the conference room”. According to the claimant, the environment was one where “everything was a battle”.

The employee on one occasion was invited into a meeting where the room was dark and GL then “slammed the conference room door while shouting and cursing at the claimant”.  GL was upset, “believing that as the claimant had apologised to the customer, he was now liable for any problems as she had admitted fault”.

GL “kicked the door closed, blocked and held the door, preventing the claimant from leaving the room”. The office was dark as it was evening and the claimant was “scared and didn’t know what was going to happen to her”.

Eventually the owner let her out and told her to “get her stuff and leave.” She left the office and never returned. She was put on certified sick leave and “felt broken.”

GL accepted that he had blocked the door, preventing the claimant from leaving.

He disputed the suggestion that he asked her to leave and said that he initially wanted her to return to work. He accepted that the workplace was volatile. It was “normal practice to raise concerns verbally”.

GL’s daughter disputed picking up a chair and throwing it. She admitted to “probably kicking a chair, but not in the vicinity of the claimant”.  She admitted to having arguments with GL and with the claimant.

In making its determination, the Tribunal said it considered violence in the workplace to be unacceptable. The claimant could not be expected to return to work after the respondent held and blocked the conference room door, preventing her from leaving. (Michelle Devereux v Kingswood Computing Ltd – UD 970/ 2013)

 

Ex Woodies worker wins award despite false injury claim

A former female employee of the DIY group, Woodies, who was dismissed for falsely claiming that she was injured in a work accident, has been awarded €5,000 by the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

A majority of the Tribunal reached the following conclusions:

  • The claimant’s actions contributed to an extent to the ultimate outcome.
  • There were shortcomings in the respondent’s procedures.
  • A lesser, more proportionate sanction could have been considered, given the previous unblemished record of the claimant over many years.

In February 2013, the claimant, reported to the assistant store manager at the Woodies outlet where she worked that she had sustained an injury while at work four days previously. That she had been assisting the security guard to put back on a pallet compost bags that had fallen off. The next day she felt sore and the injury gradually worsened.

The assistant store manager completed an accident report form for the store manager. (He has since emigrated and was not a witness before the Tribunal.)

The store manager later viewed CCTV footage and saw the claimant merely lifting a price sign. The manager informed the claimant that her story did not match up. A meeting was arranged with the executive area manager (EAM). The claimant was informed that she should bring a witness with her. She was accompanied by a colleague.

The claimant sought copies of the CCTV footage ahead of the meeting, but her request was denied.

An area manager with responsibility for HR issues and disciplinary matters told the Tribunal that it was “very clear that the incident simply did not happen.” The claimant had misrepresented the incident. It was an issue of trust. The claimant received a letter of dismissal informing her that her action in “misleading the company” was an “extremely serious matter” amounting to “gross misconduct.”

In reply to questions from the Tribunal, the claimant said that it did not occur to her to ask that the security guard be brought to the disciplinary meeting, or appeal hearing. In her view, she had answered the five allegations put to her and expected that she would be given “the benefit of the doubt.”

While the Tribunal, by a majority, was persuaded by much of the evidence presented by the respondent, there were shortcomings in the process, such as the non-availability at the hearing of some people involved, along with the CCTV footage. In addition, a number of procedural flaws in the disciplinary process were identified. The Tribunal decided that “on the balance of probability and bearing in mind all the circumstances that the claim succeeds.”

A dissenting opinion from the Tribunal stated the following: “The claimant had been specific as to the date of the alleged incident, the circumstances in which it occurred and the third party accompanying her when the accident occurred.”

“Following investigation, the respondent had at its disposal CCTV evidence and a statement by the security guard, neither of which supported the claimant’s version of the alleged accident.”

“A reasonable employer in those circumstances would have been entitled  … to conclude that the reported accident did not occur.”

(Rosheen Jones v Woodies DIY (Irl) Ltd – UD 1139/ 2013)