In a recent unfair dismissal case, the Labour Court tripled the compensation award for the claimant Mr Valery Panasov from €10,000 to €30,000 due to the lack of procedural fairness. The appeal was a joint appeal to the Labour Court by Mr Valery Panasov and Pottle Pig Farm against the Decision of an Adjudication Officer under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 – 2015.
The claimant was employed since 2009 as a Pig Stockman on the respondent’s pig farm. His duties involved the care, feeding, and general management of pigs and piglets. In 2015, the claimant informed the owner of the farm that he was ill and wouldn’t be present in work. The owner entered the area where the claimant worked and discovered piglets unfed. He argued that this was done deliberately, represented a neglect of duties and was totally “abhorrent to him”.
The respondent said from his vast experience with piglets he knew they had not been fed for 20 hours. Furthermore, an inspection in November 2015 revealed empty feeding bins and distressed pigs. Lights were found left on overnight causing a fire hazard and animal welfare implications.
The claimant was dismissed for general neglect of the pigs, failure to carry out a legitimate management instruction and one instance of abusive language to the respondent.
The claimant stated that prior to his dismissal he had only been in receipt of a verbal warning, however, this was expired at the time of his dismissal. He argued the respondent was annoyed that he had requested payslips.
Following the request, he was placed on a reduced working week and when he phoned to query when he would revert to his normal hours he was advised that he was fired.
The respondent stated the claimant’s actions “constituted serious gross misconduct, sufficient to warrant the Complainant’s immediate dismissal, and was necessary to protect animal welfare and the economic interests of the Respondent and its other employees.” The respondent argued the Complainant’s contract of employment, which referenced the company’s disciplinary procedures allowed for summary dismissal where a serious instance of gross misconduct had occurred.
No investigation into the allegations took place. The respondent failed to invite the claimant to an investigation meeting in order for the claimant to provide a response to the allegations.
The claimant was never formally invited to participate in a disciplinary procedure or given the right to be represented. The respondent informed the claimant over the phone that he was dismissed.
A dismissal letter followed citing the reason for dismissal as neglect, however, no right of appeal was afforded.
Labour Court Determination
The Labour Court stated that “the manner in which the decision was made to dismiss the Complainant was devoid of any form of procedural fairness and offended against the principles of natural justice to which he was entitled. No investigation/enquiry was carried out. The Respondent came to a conclusion that the Complainant was guilty of a serious offence without giving him an opportunity to defend himself and/or to respond to the allegations made. He was not allowed any representation and was given no right to appeal. The Complainant was simply told over the phone that his employment was terminated. He was dismissed in a most insensitive manner.”
The Court cited a decision by the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the case of Gearon v Dunnes Stores:
“The right to defend herself and have her arguments and submissions listened to and evaluated by the respondent in relation to the threat to her employment is a right of the claimant and is not the gift of the respondent or the Tribunal….As the right is a fundamental one under natural and constitutional justice; it is not open to this Tribunal to forgive its breach”.
The Court went onto to confirm the dismissal was an unfair dismissal and increased the award from €10,000 to €30,000.
- When faced with allegations of misconduct, it is important to conduct an investigation in line with the company’s disciplinary procedure
- The respondent should be provided with the opportunity to respond to the allegations
- Prior to issuing a formal outcome, the respondent should be formally invited to a disciplinary hearing and given the right to be represented by either a fellow employee or union official
- The right of appeal should be afforded
- Fair procedure and the rights of natural justice should be adhered to throughout the process
If you have any queries regarding disciplinary procedures please contact the advice line on 01 886 0350