Care worker who set off fire alarm when boiling eggs and carried resident to safety wins unfair dismissal case

File photo of the Labour Court.

A care organisation sacked a worker for setting off a fire alarm at a care home when boiling eggs and for carrying out to safety a resident from the home instead of evacuating him by wheelchair.

In the case, the Labour Court has found that Cheeverstown House Ltd has unfairly dismissed Mercy Oshin and ordered the care organisation to pay Ms Oshin €3,500.

The ruling by the Labour Court overturns an earlier ruling by an Adjudication Officer at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) that the dismissal was not unfair.

Ms Oshin had worked as a care assistant at Cheeverstown House from 2007 to 2016.

On the night of November 1, 2015, Ms Oshin was on duty at one of Cheeverstown House’s care homes for the sole purpose of assisting a resident ’S’ in case of an emergency pending Cheeverstown installing double doors.

At 1.30am, Ms Oshin was boiling two eggs in a pot in a cooker but abandoned them for some time resulting in the water boiling dry and the smoke alarm sounding.

Cheeverstown told the Labour Court: “This could have resulted in a fire putting the service users at risk, the very thing that the complainant was there to prevent.”

In the evacuation, Ms Oshin lifted ‘S’ out of the house rather than use the wheelchair provided specifically for this purpose and this was contrary to fire evacuation training and to evacuation procedures applicable to ’S’.

A witness saw Ms Oshin exit the house carrying ’S’ whose legs were dangling.

After the fire brigade gave the all-clear, Ms Oshin again carried ‘S’ back into the house again breaching health and safety procedures - this was disputed by Ms Oshin.

Ms Oshin was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct after Cheeverstown House found that she had recklessly endangered the health and safety of ‘S’ and herself.

Cheeverstown also stated that Ms Oshin’s actions broke the bond of trust necessary in an employee/employer relationship as her account of what happened on the night was inconsistent.

In her evidence, Ms Oshin accepted that she had caused the fire alarm to activate with the boiling eggs and had carried out resident ’S’.

Ms Oshin told the Labour Court that she had carried ‘S’ out because she could not leave him there and his safety was paramount. She stated that she had never been told not to lift him.

Ms Oshin said that lifting ‘S’ was the quickest means of getting him out as the bed could not be dragged and he was not very heavy.

However, she argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the finding that she had endangered recklessly the health and safety of 'S' and herself.

Ms Oshin argued that the penalty of dismissal was disproportionate having regard to the circumstances and her impeccable disciplinary record.

Ms Oshin told the hearing that she was surprised and disturbed to be sacked as she had a long and good record.

In its findings, the Labour Court found that “there is no doubt that an incident of this sort in a house occupied by four people, two of whom are very vulnerable and in need of assistance, is a very serious matter”.

The court found that the disciplinary investigation contained many flaws “and this made it difficult for the complainant to establish that she ought not to be dismissed”.

The court found that Cheeverstown “has not proved their case that the dismissal met the tests of reasonableness and proportionality”.

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