A FORMER HR manager at a cemetery has been awarded €47,500 in compensation by the Workplace Relations Commission due to his dismissal being deemed ‘both substantively and procedurally unfair’.
The man had worked for the cemetery in question from January 1996 until his dismissal in October 2016.
At the time of his exit he was paid a salary of €51,500.
From March of 2016 until late April that year the man had been absent from work due to illness.
Upon returning to work he was informed by the company that ‘a number of concerns had come to their attention’ while he was absent.
These concerns included the removal of data from a company hard drive, the mismanagement of health and safety records, and how the man had dealt with (as HR manager) the long-term absence of a colleague.
He was suspended with pay between April and September of that year while an internal investigation took place.
On 29 September 2016 the man was called to a disciplinary hearing conducted by the deputy CEO of the cemetery. One week later he was informed he was being dismissed with immediate effect, due to his actions constituting gross misconduct.
The employer argued that the man’s dismissal had resulted entirely from his own conduct.
In his defence, the manager pointed out that he had an unblemished disciplinary record prior to the events which led to his departure.
Regarding the removal of data from the hard drive, he said this had resulted from a legitimate data request relating to the non-payment of bonuses for two years. That data request had been handled by the deputy CEO.
He claimed that, immediately prior to his five-month suspension, the deputy CEO who later chaired his disciplinary hearing had offered him an exit package relating to ‘a series of concerns’.
He also disputed the suggestion that he had mismanaged the long-term absence of the other person, saying that far from exposing the company to litigation or financial risk, he had in fact saved the company from harm.
‘Judge, jury, and executioner’
The man said that the deputy chief executive had operated as his ‘judge, jury and executioner’, and that the person who had investigated him, the company’s financial controller, was not independent (the financial controller had, however, been approved by both sides to carry out his task).
In his ruling, adjudication officer Eugene Hanly was critical of the dismissed man regarding all three points raised by the cemetery. He said that, on the balance of probability, the man had moved or deleted files from the hard drive, and that he could not understand the man’s denials of having done so.
Regarding the issues surrounding health and safety, Hanly said the manager had ‘abdicated’ his responsibility by failing to follow up on his delegation of that task to another person. He also said that the manager had mishandled the working absence of his colleague by failing to respond to that employee’s emails.
He said that the man had demonstrated “failings in the performance of his duties and in the trust placed in him” and said that he had contributed to his own dismissal. He also added that the financial controller’s investigation had been ‘very detailed’.
Hanly concluded however that, notwithstanding the small management team in the company, the fact that both the deputy CEO and chief executive (to whom the manager had appealed his dismissal) were involved in his disciplinary hearing was procedurally unfair, and that external persons should have carried out the action.
He found that the man had moved to mitigate his own loss by obtaining a new HR position (at a salary of €35,000).
He also ruled that the various concerns raised by the cemetery neither collectively nor individually amounted to sufficient grounds for the dismissal he had suffered.
Accordingly, he ruled that the company must pay the man €47,500 in compensation within six weeks.