Mechanic fired over allegation of ‘patchy’ performance awarded €17,000 at WRC

Garage owner said he felt there had been no alternative to dismissal after series of alleged failures on worker’s part

The Workplace Relations Commission has ordered a garage to pay over €17,000 to a mechanic sacked for what was claimed to have been “patchy” performance on the job – including an allegation that he failed to properly secure the wheels on a customer’s car.

The mechanic, who denied doing anything wrong during his employment with the garage, said he experienced no issue after a 3km test drive of the car. He said that a loose wheel would have been spotted and “would have fallen off” if it was rattling throughout a journey.

Shane Barry’s complaint under the Unfair Dismissals Act against Jordan Motors Ltd, trading as Martin Barrett Car Sales, was upheld by the Workplace Relations Commission in a decision published on Tuesday morning.

The WRC ruled Mr Barry had been denied fair procedures and was not given a chance to make a full response to his employer’s claims before being fired.

Company owner Derek Jordan said Mr Barry’s performance at work was “patchy” and that he had spoken to the claimant “repeatedly” about poor performance.

He maintained the mechanic was making errors which cost the company money.

Mr Jordan said on one occasion Mr Barry took a full day to replace a fuel pump – a job the garage owner said should have been done in an hour and a half.

On another occasion a new engine was required for an Audi A6 when the original was overfilled with oil and hydraulically locked, he said.

The garage boss said he dismissed another mechanic for failing to secure the wheel of a car on July 28th, 2020, a situation he said was “very dangerous and could have resulted in an accident”.

He said he spoke to Mr Barry at this point about his performance and attitude on the job and warned him that “apprentice-level mistakes would not be tolerated”.

On September 7th of that year, Mr Jordan said, a customer of the garage heard a loud noise coming from his Hyundai car and had it inspected by a local mechanic in Killarney, Co Kerry, who said the wheels were “not secured safely”.

Disciplinary meeting

Mr Jordan said his service manager investigated and found it had been Mr Barry who had taken the wheels off to change the brakes.

The service manager came to the conclusion that the wheels were “nipped with an airgun but not manually checked afterwards” – something Mr Jordan said was a “practice” of Mr Barry’s.

The complainant was called to a disciplinary meeting the following day over his “failure to carry out the necessary safety checks on a car which are standard practice, and a breach of trust and confidence with the employer”.

Brian Kearney, who appeared for the company instructed by Ormonde & Co Solicitors, said the firm’s position was that Mr Barry’s explanation was heard but that there were “no mitigating factors”.

Alternatives to dismissal were considered, but the incidents were deemed “too serious” for any alternative, Mr Kearney said.

In his evidence, Mr Barry disputed the customer’s claim of a loose wheel, saying he had taken the car for a 3km test drive and experienced “no issue”.’

‘Loose’ wheel

“A loose wheel would be spotted as it would make a lot of noise. If it was rattling throughout the journey the wheel would have fallen off,” he told the hearing.

In respect of the other matters, the garage owner complained about, he said he couldn’t find the access point to change the fuel pump on one car because its boot was full and that nobody knew how to get to the pump.

Mr Barry said he was given no warning or sanction for that matter but that it was raised, along with the oil spill, when another colleague was fired.

His barrister, Derek Dunne, who was instructed by Derry O’Carroll & Co, said Mr Barry “was not given details of the allegations against him” at the disciplinary meeting and that “no misconduct was proven”.

He said his client received a dismissal letter at the disciplinary meeting which had been prepared in advance, sacking him “on the basis of allegations” without basic fair procedures being applied.

His client had been told he had the right to appeal and tried to do so but got no appeal hearing, he said.

Adjudicating officer Davnet O’Driscoll noted that the respondent’s service manager, who investigated the Hyundai owner’s complaint, was not before her to give evidence.

There was no evidence that the Hyundai had been inspected to establish the validity of the complaint against Mr Barry, or that the complainant had been given an opportunity to reply.

She found Mr Barry was called to a disciplinary meeting with without prior warning and without being given the opportunity to be represented.

Ms O’Driscoll found, in the absence of written procedures within the company, that the respondent had failed to comply with the code of practice established by the former Labour Relations Commission under the Industrial Relations Act.

She ruled the dismissal of Mr Barry unfair and ordered the company to compensate him for his financial losses of €17,472.