A support worker was unfairly dismissed following allegations that he told a female volunteer “blondes are better” and made other alleged “inappropriate comments”.
Now, Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer Pat Brady has ordered the adventure centre, which provides rehab support and programmes, to pay the worker €5,000 compensation for the unfair dismissal.
In a hard-hitting ruling, Mr Brady stated that the treatment by the adventure centre of the worker was “reprehensible in general”.
He added: “But more so in that it tolerated a damaging reference to alleged sexual misconduct that was vague, unspecified and unproved and permitted it to hang in the air without a full and proper investigation. No such allegation has been proved against the complainant.”
Mr Brady said the support worker “was the victim of an unfair dismissal of an extremely serious nature and at the outer limits of the spectrum of gravity”.
Mr Brady stated that he accepted the adventure centre does important work for society and works with vulnerable adults, “but this does not relieve it from the responsibility to apply fair procedure in disciplinary processes. I find that it did not do so in this case.”
The support worker was dismissed by the adventure centre on January 30th last after three separate allegations including one where a manager received an anonymous phone call from a female volunteer, informing him that she had received vulgar text messages of a sexual nature from the support worker.
The support worker was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct.
In his findings, Mr Brady stated: “It appears that one of the ‘inappropriate’ comments was ‘blondes are better’. This may be inappropriate, but it is important to refer to it to illustrate that on the wide spectrum of inappropriate sexual conduct it lies at the less serious end, whatever it might mean.”
Mr Brady added that the anonymous caller “apparently suggested that the comments she received were ‘vulgar’ but no evidence was presented then or since as to what they were, what made them ‘vulgar’ and certainly they were not shared with the complainant”.
Highlighting a series of breaches in the adventure centre’s disciplinary process, Mr Brady stated: “To describe what happened as an investigation would be stretching things, and indeed, based on the evidence, nothing resembling a fair investigation took place.”
Mr Brady said the catalogue of consistent breaches of the support worker’s rights “provides a case study in how not to conduct a disciplinary process”.
He stated: “It is hard to find any example within it where the respondent applied fair procedure, apart from not summarily dismissing him without any hearing.”
The support worker was without work for a full month and is experiencing continuing losses of approximately €75 per week on the wage he earned at the centre.
Mr Brady stated: “I consider it unlikely that he will find employment in the near future that will match his income with the respondent and this is reflected in my award.”