Tribunal finds probe into allegations coach punched two players over social media post lacked fairness

A football club has been given the ‘red card’ by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) when told to pay €13,000 for the unfair dismissal of a fitness coach.

In the case, the un-named football club sacked the fitness coach in April 2018 over disputed allegations that he physically assaulted two players, including the team captain.

The alleged altercation arose from a posting on social media.

The fitness coach has successfully sued for unfair dismissal and in the case, the WRC has ordered the club to pay the fitness coach €9,000 for his unfair dismissal and an additional €4,000 for four weeks’ pay of notice.

According to WRC Adjudication Officer, Pat Brady, “evidence was given by one of the players that the complainant had made an unprovoked attack on him, as a result of which he sustained swelling and bruising around the eye”.

However, in response, the fitness coach - who worked at the football since the 2013 season - denied that he was the aggressor.

According to Mr Brady’s report, the fitness coach disputes some aspects of the detail in the evidence of the football club concerning the incident which led to his dismissal and in particular that of the team captain’s evidence and who was the alleged victim of the punch.

The fitness coach contends that no second punch was thrown and that the alleged victim made a move to approach him in a threatening manner.

Mr Brady said that the fitness coach admitted that his own conduct was “unacceptable and uncharacteristic”.

The team manager gave evidence that he had not been in the room where the incident occurred at the time; he had been downstairs and heard a ‘hullaballoo’ and went upstairs, by which time the incident had concluded.

He took the fitness coach downstairs for a chat and told him to take a few days off to cool down and not to come to a game arranged for the following day and to allow for investigation of the incident.

Other players who had witnessed the events complained to another manager and stated that it was ‘out of order’.

The manager told the WRC that he just could not see any way that those involved could ever put what occurred behind them.

The fitness coach gave his version of events and the club decided to sack him and he was called to the club premises some days later and told by the manager that, following an investigation, his contract was being terminated effective immediately.

In his case at the WRC, the fitness coach maintained that the process to dismiss him lacked any element of fair procedure.

The fitness coach stated that there was no proper investigation, he was not suspended and there was no proper disciplinary hearing.

He pointed out that he was not given any right to representation.

In his findings, Mr Brady found that the club did not put in place a normal disciplinary process.

Mr Brady found that there was an understandable need to immediately diffuse the situation and the fitness coach was told to go home and not report for work.

Mr Brady stated that the manager of the football club made some inquiries about what happened “perhaps insufficient to represent a proper investigation as he did not interview the complainant apart from their discussion immediately following the incident, or share the information he had from other witnesses, but this was not the fatal flaw in the procedure”.

He stated: “Certainly, there was enough information known about what happened to set up a hearing and decide the matter and had that happened it might have been a different matter. This did not happen.”

Mr Brady said that the fitness coach was summoned to a meeting, which was not identified as being a disciplinary meeting, and he was told he was being dismissed.

This rendered the dismissal unfair.

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