Dismissal for Using Bad Language Deemed Unfair

When is dismissal a valid first and final disciplinary sanction? In a recent case (UD 1525/2012) a customer service rep for a waste re-cycling company who had used expletives and offensive language with her colleagues was awarded €12,500 for unfair dismissal

The claimant clearly used the offensive language as alleged based on the phone recordings played back and also had kept a customer holding on for 5 minutes whilst she was engaged in flirtatious conversation with a colleague. The Company decided it was serious misconduct and dismissed. The claimant had a previously unblemished record for 5 years and had not been told that the meeting she was called to was a disciplinary meeting nor was she offered the option of being represented at the meeting.

The EAT decided that the sanction of dismissal was disproportionate in the circumstances and that a warning about the use of bad language would have been sufficient. 

Furthermore, the employee’s previous good record should also have been taken into account. The procedure used was also flawed in respect of how the disciplinary meeting was convened and the amount of notice given in advance of the meeting.

Lessons for Employers

There are some useful lessons for employers from this case in how to handle disciplinary situations:

  • Ensure employee understands allegations in advance of any meeting and that the notice of meeting and subject matter is communicated in writing;
  • Allow adequate notice in advance of any disciplinary or investigation meeting for employee to prepare and be able to respond to issues;
  • Offer employee opportunity to bring a representative to meeting;
  • Consider whether conduct is serious enough to warrant dismissal on a first offence; and
  • Take into account a previously unblemished disciplinary record.