An accountant who believed he would still have a job after going into rehab for his cocaine addiction – only to be told he’d been gone “too long” – has been fined €20,000 for unfair dismissal.
The Workplace Relations Commission heard that the employer was initially “very supportive” in the case and that its recruiter told the employee “there would always be a job for him”.
But when the man tried to return to work after leaving the course early, his bosses told him they “thought he had quit,” the court was told.
The WRC official on the case noted that the worker, Paul Flanagan, “did not resign” but was fired “in a very underhanded manner”.
It upheld Mr Flanagan’s complaint under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 against Holbury Ltd, trading as Safe-Stride, in a decision published this morning.
Mr Flanagan said he has worked for the company since 2010, having started as a general employee and then moving to an accounting role after earning a diploma in the field.
He said he has a “great relationship” with both directors Liam and Kieran Sweeney. However, he said his existing “problem” with cocaine got “much worse” after his father’s death in late 2019.
Mr Flanagan’s case was that when he was admitted to a 20-week inpatient drug treatment course at Cuan Mhuire in July 2020, he decided to “get professional help for his addiction” and his employer supported him.
He met with the company’s human resources manager before the course began, he said.
The complainant said that at the meeting the HR officer said “there would always be a job” for Mr Flanagan, although the company “could not guarantee his exact position”.
The company had sent the WRC a copy of a letter dated three days after that meeting, informing Mr Flanagan that it considered his post “vacant” and that the complainant should write to the company “whether” he intended to or not return to work.
Mr Flanagan said the letter was sent to the wrong address.
“Had the complainant known that his job was in jeopardy, he would have sought outpatient treatment,” said his attorney Barry O’Donoghue of Ferrys LLP.
Mr Flanagan said he “didn’t feel safe” on the Cuan Mhuire course and was released after eight weeks at the end of August.
He met with his employers again after his departure and said he had been told he was not expected back until November.
He contacted the company again in November and was told nothing was available until January 2021, he said.
Then, at a meeting on December 3, 2020, Mr Flanagan said director Liam Sweeney had told him he had “effectively quit” when the treatment course started, adding that 20 weeks was “just too much”.
Holbury Ltd did not provide any evidence at the hearing.
In her decision, Trial Officer Niamh O’Carroll said it was the applicant’s “undisputed” evidence that the July 2020 letter was “sent to the wrong address” and that it contained “no mention of resignation or anything of the sort”. December”.
“I also note that the letter of the 10thth von July also left the door open to resume employment after treatment,” Ms O’Carroll wrote.
“Based on the undisputed evidence, I can only conclude that the resignation was an afterthought on the part of the defendant when it did not suit him to bring him back.
“I am fully satisfied that the complainant has not resigned from office. He was dismissed by the defendant in a very underhanded manner.”
Ms O’Carroll said she was pleased with Mr Flanagan’s efforts to find new work and awarded him €20,000 in compensation for wrongful dismissal.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/accountant-who-was-unfairly-dismissed-after-going-to-rehab-for-cocaine-addiction-gets-20k-award-42216700.html Accountant wrongfully fired for cocaine addiction receives €20,000 reward