A school bus operator who suggested a driver’s dog might have eaten his pay packet after he put it through his letterbox has successfully defended a claim of unfair dismissal.
The driver lodged a series of complaints under the Payment of Wages Act and the Unfair Dismissals Act against his former employer, alleging non-payment of wages and constructive dismissal.
The identities of the parties were made anonymous in a decision published this morning by the Workplace Relations Commission.
Neither were prepared to give evidence under oath, the adjudicating officer noted.
The driver worked 25 hours a week for the company between August 2018 and February 2020 collecting children from local schools, as well as attending a FÁS course, the WRC was told, and was allowed to bring the bus home.
An Independent Workers’ Union organiser representing the driver said their client was owed €600 for his last two weeks in work.
Their driver’s position was that the cash should have been left on the dashboard of the bus parked outside his home as agreed.
But when the union contacted the owner of the firm, he said he had left the money “through the letterbox” - something he had been asked not to do, it was submitted.
“There was no sign of a break-in, no damage to the house [AND]no-one else living in the house,” the union organiser said, arguing there was therefore “no reason to report the issue to the Garda”.
But there had been “precedent for slow payment” by the owner of the company and the union “had to write to him on behalf of the complainant in December 2019 about €1,500 unpaid wages”, the organiser said.
“The complainant had no choice but to resign immediately because he was not being paid and he was constructively dismissed as a result,” the union organiser argued.
The bus company owner, who represented himself at the hearing, said the driver had objected to being paid by bank transfer when he decided to switch away from paying cash in 2018, so he agreed to continue paying him cash.
He said he did so either when the driver called to his house, met him at various locations in a town in Munster, or by leaving the cash in his bus.
He said shortly before his employment ended, the driver phoned to say he was finishing on his “FÁS scheme” and wanted to go back on it - but had to be unemployed for 12 months to be eligible.
The owner told him to “think about it” because he had “40 hours’ work a week” for him, he told the commission, adding that the driver told him he would “think about it”.
Following this, on Friday 31 January 2020, he said he stopped by the driver’s house and put the wages in the letter box, phoning him the following day to say where they were.
But the driver phoned back later to say “there was no money there”, he said.
The owner then told him to report the loss of the cash to the gardaí, or he would do it, he said, and he reported the matter the same day.
On Sunday 2 February, the driver phoned him to say he would not drive for him anymore, but did agree to work the following day, he said.
The next day the complainant rang him to tell him the bus was parked outside a local community hall and that he was not to call to his house any more, the owner submitted.
When he asked his former driver whether he had reported the loss of his wages to the gardaí, he was told to “mind his own business,” he said.
The bus operator also suggested in submissions that the driver’s dog “could have eaten the money”.
The Independent Workers’ Union rep said he was instructed that the driver did keep a dog but that it was “always out the back” and this suggestion was “not valid as the dog was not in the house”.
“There were two vastly different versions of events presented to the hearing by the parties,” wrote adjudicating officer Peter O’Brien, in a decision published this morning. “The decision for the adjudicator is which version of events is the more persuasive,” he added - going on to say that the constructive dismissal claim relied on the Payment of Wages claim being proven.
Neither party agreed to give evidence on oath and be cross-examined on it, he noted, and had relied solely on their statements.
“The respondent’s main argument was that the complainant contrived this dispute to terminate his employment to be eligible to return to Fas support schemes,” he wrote.
He wrote that the lack of evidence of a bank transfer or a receipt went against the bus company owner - but the payslips, history of making payment in cash in various ways, and the owner’s immediate report of the loss to the gardaí were all points in his favour.
The fact the bus driver had sought reinstatement as a remedy to unfair dismissal “does not sit comfortably with his allegation that he was not paid and was in such disagreement with the owner that [IT]required him to leave employment immediately”, Mr O’Brien wrote.
He found the bus company owner’s version of events “more persuasive” than the complainant’s, calling his arguments “more coherent” and noting that his submissions were supported by the documentary evidence submitted.
He ruled the complaint under the Payment of Wages Act was not well founded and ruled the complainant was not unfairly dismissed.