A manager who told her boss she could not come to a conference because her back was out but had booked a trip to Lanzarote for the same date has lost a €90,000 wrongful dismissal lawsuit.
The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) heard that one of her colleagues checked her work e-mail while she was ill and then reported to the company’s chief executive when she found personal e-mails with her flight details there, resulting in a full initiated disciplinary proceedings.
Tara Keating’s claim under the Unfair Dismissals Act against Camfil (Ireland) Ltd was dismissed in an arbitration decision published today, despite the company being ordered to pay her €3,900 for withheld sick pay, annual leave and public holiday entitlements.
She accepted a text message to the Irish subsidiary’s chief executive on September 5, 2019, saying: “My back was going and I’m up the wall if the event looms… I’m sorry I dropped that on you.”
“I put my hands up, I messed up the dates. I panicked,” Ms. Keating said.
The company’s position was that Ms. Keating had “contrived, willfully” misled the company about her absence from work and that this — along with her “excessive” personal use of her work email — constituted gross misconduct.
Paul Flanagan, the company’s chief executive, said at a hearing in March this year that he was “shocked and amazed” to learn that Ms. Keating’s vacation booking conflicted with the company’s semi-annual conference in September 2019.
He said the Irish Branch was hosting the event and he had worked closely with her on her presentation as her focus this year was on Ms. Keenan’s work in Purchasing.
He said when he opened her account he found “rather excessive use of email” with correspondence involving a laundry she owned in Navan, Co. Meath and her husband’s scaffolding business.
Recruitment adviser John Keenan, appearing for Camfil, said this was the “most important solicitation” for the formal investigation that followed.
This eventually led to Ms Keating’s dismissal on a finding of gross misconduct following a disciplinary hearing, he said.
Lars Asmussen BL, appearing on behalf of Ms Keating on instructions from attorney Neil Cosgrave, said the company’s disciplinary process was so “devastatingly unfair” that his client was left unable to work due to stress and anxiety.
Ms Keating said in evidence she returned from sick leave on October 30, 2019 to be “ambushed” by her boss, the company’s financial controller Thomas Dullaghan, with a formal notice of disciplinary action.
She described being called into Mr Dullaghan’s office to tell her the company had conducted an investigation while she was on sick leave and found she had used Camfil’s email address to run two family businesses and had “deliberately” taken a vacation that coincided with an important company meeting.
“You’re suspended,” he told her.
“I was shocked,” she told the hearing. “He handed me an envelope and said, ‘It’s all in here.’ I just left the building. He spoke 100 words per minute – it was like a slap in the face.
“I felt like there was a vendetta going on and I’ve been a target since July (2019) when I emailed about Thomas Dullaghan for harassment and bullying,” Ms Keenan said.
She said her efforts to obtain copies of emails and other documents for her appeal were thwarted by her former boss, Mr Dullaghan, and she eventually filed a legal petition on her records.
Mr Dullaghan conceded on cross-examination that, contrary to the company manual, copies of the emails were not made available to the complainant.
However, he denied that there had been a “clear pattern of repression” in the way he had corresponded with the applicant about the disciplinary proceedings, as Mr Asmussen had explained to him.
“It was not intended to make her uncomfortable at all,” Mr Dullaghan replied.
Ms Keating said her suspension and the progress of the formal disciplinary process and appeal have had a major impact on her mental health.
“To be honest, I couldn’t think straight. i was deaf Traumatized is the word,” she said.
Mr Asmussen argued that the WRC should award compensation to the maximum extent of its jurisdiction – twice its annual salary of €45,000 – in addition to other fines for alleged breaches of labor law.
In his decision, sentencing officer Jim Dolan noted that the company’s disciplinary process “did not specifically address the status of an employee” appealing his or her dismissal — but that the dismissal would be “final” and implemented after the appeals were resolved Officer.
He also noted that the company continued to accept medical certificates from Ms. Keating.
He found that her termination date was five months later than stated by the company – and on this basis granted claims under the Wage Payment Act and the organization of working hours and awarded her 3,970.90 euros for sick pay, annual leave and public holiday entitlements due during this time.
However, Mr Dolan wrote that the 230 personal emails found on her account “clearly indicate that Ms Keating was conducting business while working as an employee of Camfil Ireland”.
He added that she “did not declare her intention to be away” and “acted misleadingly as if she intended to make the important presentation.”
“I believe that the complainant has seriously damaged the relationship that must exist between employer and employee,” he wrote, adding that he was satisfied with the company’s investigation into her conduct.
He said the decision to fire her was reasonable and ruled that Ms Keating’s claim against the Unfair Dismissals Act was “not well founded”.
He denied another claim under the Conditions of Employment (Information) Act on the grounds that Ms. Keating’s employment began more than four years before it came into effect.
https://www.independent.ie/news/manager-who-had-a-trip-to-lanzarote-booked-but-told-her-boss-she-couldnt-make-it-to-a-conference-due-to-a-bad-back-loses-unfair-dismissal-case-41921112.html Manager who booked a trip to Lanzarote but told her boss she couldn’t make it to a conference because of back problems loses wrongful dismissal case