Irish Rail worker challenges move to dismiss her after 37 years

Clerical officer challenges move that follows failure of random breath test for alcohol

In the High Court, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan noted Irish Rail seemed to have a “zero-tolerance” policy on failure of its random breath test for alcohol. Photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

In the High Court, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan noted Irish Rail seemed to have a “zero-tolerance” policy on failure of its random breath test for alcohol. Photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

 

A clerical officer working for 37 years with Irish Rail is challenging the company’s decision to dismiss her on safety grounds after failing a random breath test for alcohol.

Carol Sheridan consumed alcohol the previous night and did not consume alcohol at the workplace, the court heard.

Ms Sheridan ( 55), who works at Iarnród Éireann’s corporate communications department at Connolly Station, was told she faced dismissal after a breath test on September 27th last gave a reading of 50 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath. The company’s cut-off point is 35 micrograms per 100ml.

She was initially suspended but, after a disciplinary process, was told she was to be dismissed on safety grounds.

She claims Irish Rail cannot dismiss her on safety grounds because no serious safety issue has been identified by it.

The company rejects her claims and argues the fact she was at work under the influence of alcohol was in itself a significant safety risk to herself and others.

Consumed drink

Ms Sheridan, who is also a carer for her partner, said she had consumed drink the previous night, leading into the early morning of the test.

The test was taken at a time of great stress for her, she said. She had suffered some family bereavements, and the day before the test had also learned a lump on her breast was not cancerous. She did not drink at work and does not have a problem with drink, she said.

After being informed of the dismissal decision last October, she appealed. A disciplinary appeal tribunal (DAT) in November set aside the dismissal subject to conditions, including she get a written warning and be subject to random testing.

She said she was happy to comply with the conditions and returned to work in December but, the day after she returned to work, the company, invoking safety grounds, said it would not comply with the DAT decision.

Her trade union representative sought to find out exactly what was the safety problem and meetings were arranged with the company to resolve it. However, Irish Rail said it was sticking to its position, meaning Ms Sheridan was to be dismissed and she would not be paid beyond March 5th next.

Represented by Stephen O’Sullivan, instructed by Kent Carty Solicitors, Ms Sheridan sought injunctions on Wednesday compelling Irish Rail to comply with the DAT’s decision and pay her annual salary of €48,000 as normal pending the outcome of the action.

Before this incident, Ms Sheridan had a clean record, counsel said.

Injunctions opposed

Irish Rail, represented by Tom Mallon, opposed the injunctions and argued it was wholly inappropriate for her to be present at work under the influence of alcohol.

The company, under its drug and alcohol policy, tests 5 per cent of its employees annually to satisfy the requirements of the Railway Safety Act, the court heard. It claims Ms Sheridan was aware of policy that employees attending for work under the influence of a substance that would hamper their ability could result in sanction including dismissal. It also argues it is not bound by the findings of the DAT.

When the application came before Mr Justice Paul Gilligan on Wednesday, he noted Irish Rail seemed to have a “zero-tolerance” policy and said further information was required from the company about random tests on other workers.

After some discussions between the parties, the judge heard they had agreed both that the injunctions application would not proceed and on an early hearing of the full action.

It was also agreed Ms Sheridan would be paid her salary pending the full hearing and Irish Rail would not appoint anyone to her position on a full-time basis until the case has been determined. On that basis, the matter was adjourned to May.