In the recent Employment Appeals Tribunal decision of Ian Fortune v IKEA Ireland Limited, the Tribunal found that a former IKEA employee had been unfairly dismissed from his employment and awarded him €30,000 in compensation.
The Respondent Employer submitted to the Tribunal that there was an employee policy whereby the staff could consume tea, coffee and soft drinks free of charge but were required to pay €1.25 for milkshakes by purchasing a token. The Claimant’s line manager witnessed the Claimant and three other employees drinking milkshakes and asked if they intended on paying for the milkshakes, to which he received an inaudible response. The Claimant submitted to the Tribunal that he then asked his line manager if he was required to pay for his milkshake, but the line manager simply walked away and did not reply to the Claimant’s question and so the Claimant said that he was under the impression that he was not required to pay for the milkshake.
The Claimant was subsequently invited to a disciplinary meeting regarding the failure to pay for the milkshake and in the Tribunal hearing there was an issue as to whether the Claimant had in fact received the invitation to the disciplinary meeting prior to going on annual leave. The Claimant submitted that he did not receive the invitation to the disciplinary meeting until he returned from his holiday to France while the Respondent Employer argued that the Claimant had received, and signed for the courier letter, prior to going on annual leave. In any event, the disciplinary meeting was held in his absence and he was dismissed for gross misconduct. The Claimant submitted to the Tribunal that he did not appeal his dismissal as he had no faith in the company’s processes after being dismissed while on annual leave.
The Tribunal reviewed the Claimant’s flight details and concluded that he was clearly unaware of the invitation to the disciplinary meeting prior to going on annual leave. The Tribunal noted that the Respondent Employer’s decision to proceed with the disciplinary meeting in the employee’s absence was sufficient to render his dismissal unfair. Furthermore, given the conversation between the Claimant and his line manager, the Tribunal found that the failure to pay for the €1.25 milkshake was not a substantial ground to justify the Claimant’s dismissal.
Somewhat unusually, when considering if the Claimant contributed to his own dismissal the Tribunal did not hold the Claimant’s failure to appeal the Respondent Employer’s decision to dismiss him against him.
This decision highlights, once again, the importance to adhere to fair procedures, even in circumstances where an employee may be guilty of gross misconduct. The decision also highlights that employers must be certain that an employee’s behaviour warrants summary dismissal or else they could face a claim of unfair dismissal if the sanction is disproportionate to the misdemeanour.
If you are not sure how to conduct your disciplinary procedures in line with Irish Employment Law, or alternatively if you are facing a claim of unfair dismissal from a former employee, then please do not hesitate to contact us.
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