Accountant who went to rehab for cocaine addiction dismissed in ‘underhanded way’

Paul Flanagan’s employer was initially supportive when he sought treatment, telling him ‘there would always be a job for him’

An accountant who said he was led to believe he would still have a job after going to rehab for his cocaine addiction – only to be told he was gone “too long” – has been awarded €20,000 for unfair dismissal.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) heard the employer in the case had been “very supportive” at first and that its HR officer told the employee “there would always be a job for him”.

But when he sought to go back to work after leaving the course early, his employers told him they “thought he had resigned”, the tribunal was told.

The WRC official in charge of the case found that the worker, Paul Flanagan, “did not resign” but had been dismissed from his employment “in a very underhanded way”.


She upheld Mr Flanagan’s complaint under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 against Holbury Ltd, trading as Safe-Stride, in a decision published on Tuesday.

Mr Flanagan said he had worked for the company since 2010, having started as a general operative and then moving into an accountancy role after getting a diploma in the area. He said he had a “great relationship” with its two directors, Liam and Kieran Sweeney.

However, he said that his existing “issue” with cocaine got “much worse” following the death of his father in late 2019.

Mr Flanagan’s case was that he decided to “get professional help for his addiction” and that his employer was supportive when he was accepted for a 20-week residential drugs treatment course at Cuan Mhuire in July 2020.

He met the company’s HR officer in advance of starting the course, he said. The complainant said that, at that meeting, the HR officer said “there would always be a job” for Mr Flanagan although the company “couldn’t guarantee his exact position”.

The firm gave the WRC a copy of a letter dated three days after that meeting informing Mr Flanagan that it considered his job to have been “vacated” and that the complainant was to write to the company to say “whether or not” he intended to return to work.

Mr Flanagan said the letter had been sent to the wrong address.

“If the complainant had known that his job was in jeopardy, he would have sought non-residential treatment,” said his solicitor Barry O’Donoghue of Ferrys.

Mr Flanagan said he “did not feel safe” on the Cuan Mhuire course and discharged himself after eight weeks in late August.

He met his employers again after leaving and said he was told that he was not expected back until November. He contacted the firm again in November and was told there was nothing available until January 2021, he said.

Then, at a meeting on December 3rd, 2020, Mr Flanagan said the director Liam Sweeney told him that, when he went on the treatment course, he “effectively had resigned”, adding that 20 weeks was “just too much”.

Holbury Ltd called no evidence at hearing.

In her decision, adjudicating officer Niamh O’Carroll said it was the “uncontested” evidence of the complainant that the letter of July 2020 was “sent to the wrong address”.

“I also note that the letter dated July 10th also left the door open to recommence his employment after treatment,” Ms O’Carroll wrote.

“I can only conclude, based on the uncontested evidence, that the resignation was an afterthought of the respondent’s when it didn’t suit them to have him back,” she wrote. “I am fully satisfied that the complainant did not resign his position. He was dismissed by the respondent in a very underhanded way,” Ms O’Carroll added.

She said she was satisfied with Mr Flanagan’s efforts to find new work and awarded him €20,000 in compensation for unfair dismissal.