€75,000 award for heavy handed dismissal

In a recent case published (UD 520/2013 & UD 521/2013)two employees who were dismissed from a printing company for gross misconduct for not clocking out during a break were awarded €75,000 and €33,000 respectively as well as additional notice payments for unfair dismissal.

The employees had gone to get some lunch whilst machines were undergoing a washout process and ended up being delayed as their car got blocked in.  They also didn’t clock out in line with their normal practice and had not taken their mobile phones as they expected to be back within 20 minutes. On their return, the employees said that they would complete all printing work for the remainder of the day for free but this offer was declined.

The Company disputed the employee’s evidence and said that it was standard practice to clock out on breaks and to ask the Production Manager for permission to leave site at all times and the employees were suspended on their return to work and ultimately dismissed following an investigation, disciplinary process and appeal.

The evidence presented indicated that the person who made the decision to dismiss did not verify the practice of clocking out for breaks by checking clock card records.

The EAT determined that the dismissals were totally unreasonable and noted the following:

  • There were no contracts in place and therefore no contractual provision to clock out on breaks or to get permission to leave;
  • The employees had disputed that a memo regarding clocking out had been issued in September 2012 prior to their dismissal;
  • It was custom and practice to go on a break during the washout process as work could not be done;
  • It was high handed to suspend the employees for taking a legitimate break;
  • The decision to dismiss was not reasonable at all in the circumstances.

As is always the case with potential dismissals, the decision must be reasonable taking into account the circumstances and all relevant facts and evidence must be fully verified when there are means available to do so.