By Gordon Deegan
A worker at an amusement company was forced to resign from his job under duress after he was brought out to sea in a speed-boat by his boss where he was questioned for an hour over a missing €10,000.
In the case, the worker said that during the questioning on the boat, 2.6 miles 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.
The worker told the WRC that he was subjected to physical and mental stress, was verbally abused and that he was forced to resign under duress.
He said three people questioned him on the speedboat, the company director, his line manager and a business associate of the company director.
The worker said that all three were asking him questions about stealing money from the company and that the director was aggressive in his language.
The boat trip took place on a day off from work for the employee and the worker said that when they returned to shore, he was forced to resign from his job when he signed a resignation letter that had been prepared for him.
The letter, dated April 27, 2017, prepared by the company’s Human Resources (HR) manager stated “I refer to our conversation this morning and wish to confirm my decision to resign with immediate effect” and was signed by the worker.
The firm subsequently posted out a money order of wages that was owed to the worker and the worker returned the order with a note stating:
On the speedboat incident, the worker said that he subsequently made a complaint to the gardaí but that no criminal prosecution had followed.
However, the WRC has upheld the man’s claim for unfair dismissal and has awarded him €889.
The award is low as the man has been in receipt of disability payments since resigning his post. Also, as the man has been unavailable for work, he is deemed not suffering any financial loss.
Referring to the speed-boat incident, the WRC Adjudication Officer, Joe Donnelly said: “It is clear that the purpose of the exercise was to frighten the complainant and this had been successfully achieved. The further purpose would appear to have been to get the complainant to resign.”
Mr Donnelly found that the man was unfairly dismissed in spite of the company director offering a version of events that was completely at odds with the worker’s account.
The company director said that he invited staff out on his boat to prepare for a new season and only two staff decided to come with him.
The director said that the boat went out for about 2.6 miles to a marker buoy and then returned slowly to the harbour as there was a problem with the engine.
The director stated that the party then returned to the workplace and the worker went on a break.
The director then decided to have a meeting with the worker regarding concerns that had arisen in relation to customer numbers using the facility for which the worker was responsible.
The purpose of the meeting, which was informal, was to see if the worker could assist in identifying reasons for the decline in numbers.
According to the director, the worker refused to answer questions stating that if the respondent did not trust him then he would resign.
After a time the director went and asked the HR manager to join the meeting and again the worker repeated his wish to resign.
However, Mr Donnelly said that the director’s story of inviting the worker to participate in a boat trip, decided upon at short notice because it was a nice morning, “simply does not ring true”.
Mr Donnelly stated:
Mr Donnelly concluded that the course of action adopted by the employer “was so unreasonable as to justify the complainant terminating his employment”.