A prison officer who complained of bullying at work and of unfair dismissal has been awarded more than €14,500 by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
The complainant, who is in his early 50s, was certified as unfit for work for almost five years before he was dismissed.
The officer commenced employment in 2008 and his absence began on September 14th, 2015. He was dismissed with pay in lieu of notice on May 6th, 2020.
Disciplinary proceedings against the complainant were placed on hold and a process of investigating alleged bullying, which he raised, did not go into an internal process during that period.
The State, the respondent, submitted that it was not a case of unfair dismissal and that the officer had a long absence on sick leave before the dismissal. The State said the officer was to be the subject of disciplinary proceedings in 2015 but that on the day of the proposed disciplinary hearing, the officer went sick.
The State said numerous efforts were made to engage with the officer to see if it would be possible to return him to work.
A co-worker gave evidence of being asked by the officer’s union to become involved and try getting him back to work.
A request to meet the director general was refused as inappropriate because the director would be involved in any disciplinary process.
The officer said he was bullied in the prison service and that he did make complaints regarding a named manager and other issues. The officer said a suggestion had been made to him that he should transfer but he would be paid less.
He said he had difficulty making a written statement, as there were “huge issues” of trust because of what had happened to him and said his union had advised him to go sick. Afterwards, relations with his union became strained — he said he wanted them to arrange a safe place for him to return to work.
In his decision published on Monday, adjudicating officer Janet Hughes said that when the officer sought a meeting with the director general of the Prison Service his application was refused “but no alternative was offered — [it was] simply rejected. The sole method preferred by the respondent was a paper exercise.”
“HR staff conducted the entire process from 2019 until 2020 remotely and without any effort at meeting and hearing the complainant or indeed exploring an alternative short of dismissal. The director general and the secretary general approved their reports without question. No appeal process or hearer was offered at any stage.”
A probation report was “entirely skewed against the complainant and contained adverse information not notified to him in advance and unrelated to the case for dismissal put to him in 2019 and 2020″, wrote Ms Hughes, who described the situation as “an extraordinary breach of fair procedures”.
“The extent of the procedural flaws is found to be so great that it includes not speaking or offering to speak with the employee at any stage during the disciplinary process,” she said.
“The only possible conclusion is that the respondent fails the reasonableness test because they failed so dramatically in examining anything other than making the complainant almost entirely responsible for his own health and then dismissed him for failing that responsibility through the use of extremely flawed procedures and dismissing his point of view out of hand in 2019 and 2020.”
Ms Hughes noted, however, there was “a tendency on the part of the complainant to blame all other parties for his predicament” before she found the dismissal to be unfair.
“In summary, the manner in which the complainant’s case was handled over a five-year period leading to his dismissal fails every test of fair procedures,” she wrote.
She awarded the officer four weeks’ gross pay of €4,550 and €10,000 in respect of the loss of superannuation.