A cinema manager who was sacked after he was found sleeping at his desk and reportedly smelling of alcohol has been fined €1,600 for unfair dismissal.
The severance pay was cut after the Workplace Relations Commission ruled the man was 60 per cent responsible for his sacking – although he was awarded a further €1,018 for breaching the Working Time Organization Act.
The manager told WRC that prior to the incident he was working 56 hours a week due to staff shortages and also had a newborn child.
James Sammon made the complaints against Galway Multiplex Ltd, which operates the IMC Galway cinema on Headford Road, after being sacked from the post of General Manager in July 2020.
His employer said at a hearing last December that it had terminated Mr Sammon’s employment for misconduct after conducting a “full, impartial and fair investigation and disciplinary process”.
A HR manager at the cinema group said as evidence that a customer wrote an email claiming that the manager “looked intoxicated” at the cinema on Sunday November 17, 2019.
It has been just two weeks since he was promoted by the duty manager, the Commission was told.
The HR director also said two supervisors who worked at the multiplex made further allegations, saying Mr Sammon “fell asleep on duty” on Monday November 18 and sent a younger colleague off to buy alcohol and cigarettes the next day to buy for him.
The applicant’s lawyer stated that the alcohol was for an “after-hours event” and that Mr Sammon “did not consume alcohol on the premises”.
CCTV showed Mr Sammon was “under the influence of alcohol” and had “slept at his desk,” the human resources officer said, and another staff member took a picture of the complainant asleep at his desk.
Supervisors reported that Mr. Sammon “smelt strongly of alcohol,” the HR director said.
Mr Sammon indicated he had been drinking the previous night and accepted that he may have smelled of alcohol.
He was paid this Tuesday ahead of an investigative meeting held the following Friday, November 22, in the absence of Mr Sammon, who the firm said “had decided not to get involved” at the time suspended.
The inquiry meeting confirmed allegations that Mr Sammon slept at work, the company said.
But Mr Sammon said in his evidence the manager of the cinema chain’s Oranmore branch came to him on the Tuesday before that meeting and “told him he had been fired”.
She told him “that he should leave the premises immediately and hand over the keys,” he said at the hearing.
Mr Sammon said the other manager told him he could only read the letter she gave him at the time “after he had left the premises”.
The letter was from the company’s HR director inviting him to the investigative meeting – but he said he was “suffering from a nervous breakdown” at the time and believed he would not be able to function properly at the meeting, he said.
He filed a sick note on Nov. 26 confirming he was suffering from depression and remained on sick leave until March 10, 2020, the commission was told.
The company said a disciplinary hearing was postponed to July 2020 as a result, but Mr Sammon was eventually released on July 17, 2020 and this was upheld on appeal.
Mr Sammon’s lawyer questioned the cinema group’s human resources manager and asked if she knew that the applicant had a newborn child and told her that this was the cause of his falling asleep at work.
The HR manager said it was “unacceptable to fall asleep” and that the main concern for the cinema operator was the “health and safety risk”.
She said it was the company’s final decision that Mr Sammon was “rather asleep than drunk”.
At the hearing, Mr Sammon apologized to his former employer for sending off a young worker over cigarettes and alcohol, accepting that it was “unjustifiable”.
He also apologized for falling asleep at his desk on November 18 and for any “smell of alcohol he may have emitted.”
Mr Sammon also told the WRC that due to staff shortages he had to work 56 hours a week in October and November 2019 and between 58 and 60 hours in the week of 14 October.
He also complained that he was not receiving his statutory break entitlements and daily rest periods.
He said he asked the company’s HR director to hire new employees and a backup duty manager, but “nothing happened” until he was suspended.
The company’s attorney argued that Mr Sammon had to demonstrate a work pattern of more than 48 hours over a four-month period in order to claim overtime.
The company’s position was that Mr. Sammon himself, as general manager, was responsible for scheduling himself for breaks – and that his records showed he had ample time to rest between shifts.
In her ruling, sentencing officer Máire Mulcahy said it was “undisputed” that the Oranmore manager told Mr Sammon he had been sacked on November 19.
She noted that the company’s position was that there was “abuse of the complainant’s position of authority” and that its employees “have the right to work in a safe environment and not to feel threatened by another employee”.
“While I feel that using a younger colleague to buy alcohol was an inappropriate abuse of his position, explaining that the employee felt threatened or coerced is a further step,” Ms Mulcahy wrote.
She ruled that the company had failed to cross-examine Mr Sammon, the colleague the company said had been “threatened” – calling it “a key and significant element in the defendants’ reasoning for the dismissal”. .
Ms Mulcahy added that the firm also failed to alert Mr Sammon to the prospect of dismissal, classified his misconduct as “serious” in a summons to a disciplinary hearing, and failed to address the issues raised in his appeal.
These points revealed “a process that falls short of natural justice claims,” she wrote.
“It was a rapid descent for the complainant – a period of two weeks from being trustworthy to assume the role of managing director to being suspended for dismissal,” she added.
However, Ms Mulcahy also found that Mr Sammon had made a “significant” contribution to his own dismissal and reduced the reward by 60 per cent – ordering wrongful dismissal compensation of €1,619.
She also confirmed Mr Sammon’s entitlement to breaks during his shifts and awarded him €1,018 but denied the other hours entitlement.
https://www.independent.ie/news/cinema-manager-sacked-after-being-found-asleep-at-his-desk-and-reportedly-smelling-of-drink-awarded-1600-for-unfair-dismissal-41617581.html Cinema manager sacked after being found asleep at his desk, reportedly smelling of alcohol, for €1,600 for unfair dismissal