The case of An Employee v An Employer (UD 2413/2009) posted today serves again as a reminder to employers to ensure any workplace investigations are carried out in accordance with proper and fair procedure. Although the award was relatively small in this case (approximately €10,000) the Tribunal was particularly critical of the enquiry undertaken and noted “….the enquiry itself was flawed to such an extent that it would be unjust to hold that her failure to engage remedies the deficiencies on the respondent’s part”.
The Claimant in this case was a school secretary and was responsible for the receipt and lodgement of monies received by the School. While the Claimant was away in Australia, the Respondent discovered discrepancies in the way school monies were accounted for.
As a result of these discrepancies, an investigation, including an audit, was carried out which resulted in a shortfall of approximately €12,000 of school monies. The auditor raised a number of queries after the investigation and the Tribunal accepted that the Respondent had legitimate questions to ask of the Claimant. The Tribunal however did not accept that “……..the respondent was entitled to single out the claimant in the course of its investigations as there were other parties who also had access to the monies”. The Tribunal further noted that ……”the accounting procedures adopted by all members of staff were routinely very slack”.
As a matter of law, the Tribunal stated that when considering whether a particular action justifies a dismissal, the Tribunal “…..will have regard to the reasonableness of the employer’s decision to dismiss……..”. It further stated that it will apply the test of reasonableness to:
.1. The nature and extent of the enquiry carried out by the Respondent prior to the decision to dismiss the Claimant, and
2. The conclusion arrived at by the Respondent that, on the basis of the information, resulting from such enquiry, the Claimant should be dismissed.
The Tribunal noted “……..In this particular case, the quality and extent of the respondent’s investigation was highly questionable in circumstances where the accounting practices in place were very relaxed,certain other persons had access to the monies and one individual, namely, the principal was given too much responsibility for the conduct of the enquiry and the instigation of the disciplinary procedure”,
The Tribunal also noted that the Claimant must bear some responsibility. It noted that the Claimant’s refusal to engage with the process effectively backed the Respondent into a corner bu that “the enquiry itself was flawed to such an extent that it would be unjust to hold that her failure to engage remedies the deficiencies on the respondent’s part”.
The Tribunal concluded that the decision to dismissal based on a flawed enquiry could “not be said to be within the range of reasonable responses open to the employer” and the Claimant was awarded the sum of €9,850 under the Unfair Dismissal Acts 1977 (as amended).