Woman awarded €20,000 after working in rat infested premises
Labour Court finds woman suffered from post traumatic stress due to rodent problem
The Labour Court has ordered a Dublin firm to pay €20,000 to a former employee suffering from post traumatic stress due to the presence of rats and mice at her workplace.
The Labour Court found that Amanda Byrne was victimised and suffered harassment and a discriminatory dismissal at the hands of her employers, Sea and Shore Safety Services Ltd in a dispute that stemmed from the firm’s failure to deal adequately with a rodent problem at its Carrickmines premises.
Work at an adjoining property resulted in a rodent problem at the marine safety training firm’s property on the Glenamuck Rd in Carrickmines in 2008 and the problem re-emerged in 2010.
Ms Byrne had a long term phobia about rodents and first reported a mouse running along her office desk in June 2008.
Ms Byrne also reported seeing rats at an increasing rate around the property and on one occasion nearly stepped on a large rat outside her office in July 2010.
Ms Byrne told the court that she was terrified to walk from her car to the office after seeing a rat walk across the car park. On another occasion she saw a rat run down the hall into the office area.
She also stated that she could see rats climbing trees to access food left for birds from her office window.
The problem was exacerbated by her employer laying poison for the rats around the property resulting in a stench from the dead rats’ decaying remains on site.
Ms Byrne told the Labour Court that the smell “was foul and unbearable.”
The court heard that the company believed a €2,000 quote from Rentokil was too high to deal with the rodents before deciding on what the Court described as ‘ad-hoc’ solutions of installing sonic alarms and laying traps.
A medical report on Ms Byrne found that she suffered from “excess anxiety and post-traumatic stress due to ongoing exposure to rodents at her place of work”.
In a letter to her employers while still at work, Ms Byrne said: “For some time now, I have been completely unhappy, stressed and nervous about coming into my workplace because of rodents.
“I know they are out there but I can’t cope when they are looking at me from my desk and I’m jumpy in case I walk on a rat. I require a safe working environment. At the very least I expect the office to be free of rodents.”
“I have given a lot to Sea & Shore & Michael (Langran) & Susan (Langran) as close friends & love you dearly. I am so sad that this issue escalated to this.
“I enjoy working with Sea & Shore. Like most young couples we have a large amount of outgoings which means I have to work. But working in an unsuitable environment is totally unacceptable.”
The medical report found that Ms Byrne washed her shoes when she went home each evening in case they were contaminated by rats.
Managing Director, Michael Langran told the court that in retrospect the company did not do enough to accommodate Ms Byrne in relation to her rodent phobia.
Ms Byrne took certified sick leave as a result of the rodent problem in periods during 2008 and again in 2010.
Ms Byrne returned to work in August 2010 to be confronted by the smell of dead rodents and the Labour Court found that she also encountered a hostile and intimidating environment towards her in relation to her fresh complaints.
Ms Byrne left work never to return and the firm made her redundant the following month due to what it stated were its deteriorating finances.
However, Ms Byrne claimed that the redundancy was a sham and it was connected to her complaints over the company’s failure to deal with the rodent problem.
Overturning a ruling last year by an Equality Officer dismissing Ms Byrne’s case, the Labour Court has now found that Ms Byrne’s complaints in relation to victimisation, harassment and dismissal were well founded and ordered the payment of the €20,000 by the firm.
The court found that on the balance of probabilities, the firm decided to dismiss Ms Byrne as a means of dealing with the Employment Equality issues that she was raising.