A recent High Court decision to uphold the unfair dismissal ruling by an Employment Appeals Tribunal and held by the Circuit Court in Eugene Young V Towerbrook Ltd T/A Castle Durrow County House Hotel highlights the need for a company to ensure that all disciplinary matters are conducted in a fair, impartial and objective manner.
Justice Barton found the investigation / disciplinary meeting which resulted in the dismissal of Mr. Young, a Hotel worker with Castle Durrow Country House Hotel in Durrow Co. Laois was neither independent, thorough, impartial nor objective.
The case arose from an incident on a busy June Bank Holiday weekend. Over the course of the weekend, a considerable amount of rubbish was brought from the property to the rear of the hotel in the vicinity of the kitchen. As a hotel general porter, one of Mr. Young’s responsibilities was to remove rubbish for collection. Mr. Young was also responsible for transporting food and provisions prepared in the hotel’s kitchen to a local café in the nearby town of Abbeyleix. The café was also owned by the hotels Managing Director Mr. Stokes.
The hotel had a strict policy in place whereby staff were not permitted to collect and remove rubbish from the vicinity of the kitchen before 11am daily. The purpose of said policy was to ensure that guests were not disturbed.
Mr. Young was aware of this requirement. On the morning of June 4th, Mr. Young was scheduled to deliver food from the Kitchen to the Café in Abbeyleix, however, due to the extent of rubbish deposited at the rear of the property, Mr. Young was unable to load the delivery into his vehicle. Finding himself in what he described as ‘a no win situation’ Mr. Young opted to remove the rubbish with the assistance of a fellow employee.
Mr. Young told the court that when Mr. Stokes arrived on the scene he was very angry and that he shouted at Mr. Young using foul expletives demanding to know what Mr. Young thought he was doing breaching the house rules. Mr. Young claimed that the altercation escalated with Mr. Stokes punching Mr. Young in the chest.
On his account, Mr. Stokes was annoyed by the activity. He accepted that an argument had ensued during which he may have wagged his finger and may have poked or jabbed his finger in the chest of Mr. Young.
The court heard that efforts had been made by Mr. Young to resolve the matter with Mr. Stokes. However, when Mr. Stokes did not turn up for the meeting which they had mutually agreed to have the following day, Mr. Young went to discuss the matter with the hotels Financial Controller Ms. Shairp.
Ms. Shairp told the court that when Mr. Young came to her office he claimed to be upset that Mr. Stokes had failed to attend their meeting and that Mr. Young proceeded to remove his shirt to show Ms. Shairp the bruising which Mr. Young claimed to have on his chest following the altercation with Mr. Stokes. Ms. Shairp told the court that she was frightened by Mr. Young’s behavior as she was alone in her office with him at the time.
Disciplinary proceedings were later initiated over both incidents. The allegations were considered to be Gross Misconduct. Mr. Stokes conducted the investigation / disciplinary meeting himself into his own complaint and that of Ms. Shairp against Mr. Young. Ms. Shairp accompanied Mr. Stokes at the hearing. Mr. Stokes then took the decision to dismiss Mr. Young from his employment for Gross Misconduct.
Determination of the High Court
Justice Barton ruled that the process adopted by the company was fundamentally flawed as the disciplinary meeting leading to the dismissal was conducted as it was by Mr. Stokes himself into his own complaint against Mr. Young contrary to natural justice and fair procedure. Furthermore, this did not comply with the disciplinary procedures which the company itself had adopted. The High Court will deal later with the award and costs.
Key learning for employers
The maxim that no man should be a judge in his own cause is highlighted in this case. When it comes to disciplinary matters, employers must ensure that the rules of natural justice are consistently applied.
Said constitutional rights provide the employee with an entitlement to benefit from fair procedures, i.e. to be informed of the charge or complaint against them, to be given an opportunity to respond to same and to have said response duly considered by an impartial, unbiased and independent party.
If you have any questions in relation to this case or disciplinary procedures, please contact our advice line on 1890 253 369