Sacking of man due to advocacy and use of cannabis was 'procedurally unfair' court rules

By Gordon Deegan

Shannon airport sacked a committed cannabis user and Search Unit Officer whose job brief included searching airline passengers and baggage for illegal drugs including cannabis.

Shannon Airport Authority DAC sacked the un-named man in March 2016 for gross misconduct due to his passionate advocacy of an illegal drug and his declared position as a cannabis activist.

The airport firm also claimed that the man’s continued use of the drug had compromised the man’s role as a security agent and that he had shown a lack of commitment to reduce or cease use of cannabis.

The airport company raised the drug issue with the employee after a drugs test found that there was cannabis is his bloodstream.

The airport company’s HR Manager told the Labour Court hearing that the worker not only opposed drug rehabilitation treatment but relayed the complete opposite view and questioned the company’s right to query him about his use of cannabis.

The HR manager said that the worker told him that he was using the drug as self-medication and that until something legal came along he would continue to use it.

The senior official said that the worker was steadfast in his intention to continue to use cannabis.

The man brought unfair dismissal proceedings and wanted to be re-instated.

The Labour Court found that the man was unfairly dismissed from a procedural point of view and has awarded him €5,000.

However, the Labour Court has found that the man substantially contributed to his dismissal by his non co-operation with his employer and his steadfast commitment to the continued use of an illegal drug.

The Labour Court also found that the search unit officer’s erratic behaviour while on duty, coupled with his refusal to abide by the company strict safety regulations was not acceptable.

The court also found that the man’s position as a Search Unit Officer in a security critical role was a major factor in his dismissal - the court found that by his continued use of an illegal drug it was potentially putting colleagues and members of the public at risk.

The court also found that the employer’s stated loss of trust and confidence in the worker, it could no longer trust him to fulfill his duties to the required level.

The Labour Court stated that the €5,000 award reflects the extent to which the worker contributed to his own dismissal.

The Court also found that the worker has ceased using cannabis but had continued to use cannabis for a significant period after his dismissal.

On finding that the man was unfairly dismissed on a procedural basis, the court found that the company proceeded to dismiss the worker without informing him that it had deemed his actions as “gross misconduct” contrary to its disciplinary procedure.

The court found that the failure by the employer to abide by the terms of its disciplinary procedures and its Substance Abuse Policy rendered the dismissal procedurally unfair.

On behalf of the worker, Paul Hardy of SIPTU stated that following an episode of depression and back pain in 2013, the worker began using cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Mr Hardy told the Labour Court that the worker had a perfect disciplinary record in his fourteen years of service, which the company had not taken into account.

Mr Hardy said that there was no evidence that the worker’s security role was compromised or would be in future.

He argued that dismissal for gross misconduct was, in the circumstances, unreasonably harsh, particularly as no opportunity to seek professional help was afforded to the worker.

Mr Hardy argued that as the worker's use of cannabis was based on his political opinion that he was using it for medicinal purposes, that would have rendered the dismissal unfair.

Mr Hardy said that there was no allegation that the worker used or had cannabis on the premises or at times close to his work schedule or was ever under the influence of cannabis while at work.

Mr Hardy said that his client has no intention of using cannabis again unless prescribed by a doctor in accordance with the law.

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