When I saw the heading to this article, I thought the case related to an American employment issue rather than something that happened in Ireland.
Whilst the employer and the employee's version of events of this case completely contradict each other, you can't do anything but believe the employee as the story is so ridiculous it must be true.
The facts of the case are that an employee was brought out on a boat where he was questioned for approximately 1 hour by three people, including his line manager and a director of the company about missing funds. When questioning the employee, the director made it known that the employee would not be able to swim back to shore as the water was so cold. Whilst the employee denied any allegations put to him, when he returned to land he was brought into a meeting with HR and told he had to resign. At that stage the employee was presented with a pre-drafted resignation letter which he signed.
While the employer paid the employee all wages due to him, the employee returned the money making it known that the actions of his employer were completely unfair and ultimately lodged a constructive dismissal claim against the company.
In hearing the facts, the WRC sided with the employee's version of events and confirmed that he had been constructively dismissed.
One of the interesting points about this case (apart from the very distinctive facts) is that despite the employer acting in complete disregard of all principles of employment law, including an employee's constitutional right to fair procedures, the employee was only awarded the equivalent to 4 weeks wages. This was on the basis that the employee has been unable to work since the incident and has been claiming disability allowance from the date of dismissal up until the date of the hearing. The Unfair Dismissal Acts 1977 - 2015 provides that where the employee has suffered no financial loss (which was the case in this instance) but was unfairly dismissed, he will be awarded no more than 4 weeks remuneration as an acknowledgment of the breach. While there is obviously no denying the employee has been unable to work, presumably his inability to work is due to the actions of his employer which have caused him the stress.
In any event, if you learn anything about reading this article or indeed the full WRC decision, it is that no matter what you may suspect an employee of doing and no matter how serious or minor the issue is, consideration must always be had to the basic principles of fair procedures when embarking on an investigation or indeed a disciplinary hearing. For example, it will never be accepted as being legally correct and/or fair to surprise an employee with an allegation, giving him/her no opportunity to prepare or indeed respond to the allegations against them. Any disciplinary process requires the employee to be afforded the following basic rights:
The right to be heard and to put their case forward;
The right to know their accuser (if applicable), which may on occasion include the right to cross examine;
The right to representation (which may also include legal representation in limited circumstances); and
The right to have the process free from bias.
Obviously, each case will turn on its facts, and no one disciplinary hearing will be run exactly the same. However, so long as an employer abides by these basic principles they will certainly be heading in the right direction of mitigating any litigation risk should an employee challenge their dismissal or disciplinary warning.
A worker at an amusement company was forced to resign from his job under duress after he was brought out to sea in a speedboat by his boss and aggressively questioned for an hour over a missing €10,000. In the case, the worker said that during the incident, 4km from shore, reference was made to the fact that he would not be able to reach land by swimming because of the coldness of the water. The worker denied taking any money and told the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) that he was scared and cold during the questioning that continued for about one hour. At that stage, a helicopter appeared and hovered in the area. The boat was untied from the buoy and made its way back to the harbour while the questions continued.