A lorry driver was awarded €22,419 in compensation following a determination of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) that his dismissal was unfair, ‘disproportionate and unwarranted in the circumstances’.

The complainant had been employed as a lorry driver by a distribution company since January 1984. He was dismissed following an incident involving an oil spillage at a new customer’s premises in May 2018. The lorry driver claimed that it was ‘a relatively small oil spillage’. Mr A, the company’s operations manager in giving evidence claimed it was ‘about 400 or 500 litres’. The complainant submitted that the customer did not make a complaint about the spillage. They instead contacted the respondent ‘requesting the delivery of two bags of pellets to treat the affected area’.  

The lorry driver was subsequently approached by management. He claimed that an investigation meeting took place. The complainant was later asked to attend a meeting with the regional sales manager which transpired to be a disciplinary meeting which resulted in his dismissal for gross misconduct. The employee was ‘dumfounded and shocked’ when he was asked to hand back his company phone and keys. The respondent company maintained that the dismissal was fair, reasonable and proportionate. They believed that it was necessary due to ‘the seriousness of the matter’. 

There was confusion on whether the complainant received letters from Human Resources regarding such meetings. The respondent alleged that letters had been sent to the lorry driver informing him of the investigatory meeting along with notes of the disciplinary hearing. The complainant also did not recall receiving a letter inviting him to attend the disciplinary hearing. The company submitted that ‘the complainant had breached company procedures constituting gross incompetence/negligence and in failing to acknowledge that the incident occurred, the company had lost all trust and confidence in the complainant’.

However, the adjudicator believed the driver never received the letter in question. He was therefore unaware of its potential consequences. In addition, the complainant was never warned at the beginning of the disciplinary hearing that it could lead to his dismissal. He was also not represented at the hearing which the adjudicator believed ‘undermine[d] the fairness of the hearing and in turn the process’. The complainant was deprived of ‘the opportunity to advance a defence’. This lead to concerns surrounding fair procedures and natural justice.

The company did not consider all relevant matters in conducting their investigation. The adjudication officer noted that investigations must be ‘fair’ and ‘full’ in the sense that no issue is ‘left unexplored’. They neglected to interview two garage employees who were present when the fuel was being delivered. This was a ‘significant omission from the investigation’ as these men could have given evidence as to the actual size of the spillage.

The Adjudication Officer considered ‘both the fairness of the procedures adopted and substantive issues leading to the dismissal’. The complainant maintained that he had ‘an exemplary work record making thousands of deliveries with no road traffic offences in over 35 years’. This was taken into consideration in determining that ‘the allegations did not justify the imposition of the sanction of dismissal’.

While the lorry driver had taken up new employment very shortly after being dismissed, the Adjudication Officer was mindful of the fact that he was being paid slightly less per hour and he now worked three hours more per week in the new job. The complainant’s new job also did not offer a pension scheme.