Lidl Ireland has been ordered to pay €17,000 compensation for demoting a former logistics manager at a distribution hub to a post as a desk clerk.
The Labour Court said Lidl must pay James Murphy the €17,000 after finding that the decision to demote him was "disproportionate and unfair".
Lidl demoted Mr Murphy to the desk job after making a finding of gross misconduct concerning him allegedly concealing a three-litre carton of milk with the intention of stealing it from Lidl and allegedly falsifying work hours over a four-week period.
Lidl initially imposed a final written warning sanction on Mr Murphy and opted not to dismiss him due to his unblemished record with the company over 16 years.
Decision to demote
The decision to demote Mr Murphy to the desk job was made at appeal stage which was only brought about by Mr Murphy internally appealing the final written warning sanction.
Deputy chairman of the Labour Court Alan Haugh found that Lidl had not justified its decision to drastically increase, at the appeal stage, the original sanction imposed.
Mr Murphy had been promoted on five occasions to rise to the post of deputy logistics manager (DLM) at Lidl’s regional distribution centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare.
Mr Murphy said that he was extremely happy with his employment and had no intention of seeking alternative employment for the remainder of his working life.
As a DLM, Mr Murphy was employed on night shifts, was a keyholder to the premises, which contained several million euro worth of stock at all times, and was often the only manager on duty.
However, in January 2019, Lidl carried out a standard review of DLM average working hours.
A company investigation found that Mr Murphy had knowingly falsified his hours over a four-week period in December 2018 and that a three-litre carton of milk was removed on a trolley from the company premises on December 22nd, 2018.
In response, Mr Murphy said he had lost both of his swipe cards and hadn’t taken the necessary steps to inform the company of this nor had he applied for replacement cards.
He admitted that he had manually recorded his working hours during December 2018.
Mr Murphy made no admission of having removed any item from the trolley at any stage.
Final written warning
Lidl imposed a final written warning sanction on Mr Murphy and declined to impose a sanction of dismissal, having regard to the worker’s “years of service within the business and unblemished record to date”.
The Lidl decision maker recommended that Mr Murphy be moved to an alternative DLM role in a different department where he would be subject to greater supervision.
Mr Murphy lodged an appeal and confined the appeal to the second allegation that he had concealed a three-litre carton of milk with the intention of stealing it.
However, regional director Niall Murray upped the sanction on appeal on Mr Murphy and decided "to demote you to a desk clerk position in the warehouse, with immediate effect. This decision is final."
The difference in salary between the two roles is €17,000 per annum.
Mr Murray made his ruling “due to the fundamental breakdown of trust and the concerns that I have in relation to you remaining in a managerial role.”
Lidl said that if Mr Murphy – out on sick leave for more than six months up to the time of the Labour Court hearing – were to apply for promotion in the future, there would be no bar to him doing so.