999 operator who passed out on job unfairly dismissed

A 999 emergency phone call operator who passed out on the job and was sacked as a result has won her claim for unfair dismissal.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) found that Samantha Marshall was unfairly dismissed by Conduit Enterprises Limited in 2013 and awarded her €9,750.

The three-member tribunal was spilt on the issue with the one of the members finding Conduit Enterprises did not unfairly dismiss her.

The dissenting member, named as a D Morrison, said: “The taking of 999 calls is a very serious matter which calls for a zero-tolerance approach to anything like the leaving of a line open for as much as 19 minutes.”

However, the two-member majority — after hearing evidence over two days in Letterkenny, was not satisfied that Ms Marshall had been guilty of a culpable act.

Conduit Enterprises was providing an emergency call answering service for 999 in locations in Dublin, Navan, and Ballyshannon.

A HR co-ordinator for the firm told the tribunal that calls are answered within a standard five-second duration but normally a call is answered within one second.

Ms Marshall was working a night shift from 8pm to 8am on the night of June 12, 2013.

Ms Marshall admitted to the firm she had fallen asleep during her shift and when woken up by a colleague, she was upset and distressed. Ms Marshall was suspended on full pay and a meeting was arranged for June 17.

At a final meeting on June 18th, Ms Marshall was fired due to a breach of trust and confidence.

In her sworn testimony, Ms Marshall said in her three years with the firm she had received very favourable recognition. She felt that she was good at her work and took it very seriously.

On the night in question the air conditioning was turned off. She suffered from hay fever and took Piriton. She was on other medication and claimed she fainted. Questioned by the tribunal, Ms Marshall said she had passed out. She felt helpless and “completely in the dark”.

At the tribunal, it was put to Ms Marshall it was only to the tribunal that she had described herself as having fainted. She said that she had had a loss of consciousness due to a combination of medications but denied having fallen asleep. She regretted not having received back-up more quickly.

In its determination, the EAT stated: “While the tribunal appreciates that the breach was a serious one and one that could potentially result in an emergency call not being dealt with, the sanction of dismissal for gross misconduct of an employee who had been described as “a brilliant operator” for a single incident, which was inadvertently caused, is disproportionate.

The EAT also took into account “the candour displayed by the claimant in dealing with the allegation”.


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