€25k for cleaner as burnt toast costs job

A cleaner aged in her early 60s who lost her longstanding job over a burnt piece of toast has been awarded €25,000 for unfair dismissal.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) found that Jane Callaghan was unfairly dismissed by OCS One Complete Solutions Ltd for gross misconduct after a piece of bread she was toasting jammed in a toaster, setting off a fire alarm at the Guinness Storehouse.

Ms Callaghan was working at a function at the storehouse on April 2, 2014, and there were 360 guests in attendance, with 170 meals about to be served.

Ms Callaghan admitted to accessing the executive Bailey Suite of the storehouse to take a break and placing a piece of bread in a toaster, which then jammed.

A facilities cleaning manager with the firm told the EAT hearing, held over two days in Dublin, that Ms Callaghan panicked and ran from the executive suite, thus allowing the alarm system to become fully activated.

The alarm was subsequently stopped by a manager before the building was evacuated, and the evacuation process did not actually commence.

In the investigation, Ms Callaghan admitted that she didn’t have permission to use the executive suite, and admitted using the toaster.

The firm found that her actions constituted gross misconduct and sacked Ms Callaghan on April 23, 2014.

A witness for the firm told the EAT hearing that the incident resulted in another employee being dismissed; a third employee receiving a written warning; and a fourth failing a probationary period.

Ms Callaghan had worked for the firm for 13 years and had no previous disciplinary issues.

The firm’s head of operations told the hearing that he did not consider a lesser sanction than dismissal in Ms Callaghan’s case, as he was thinking of what could potentially have happened if there had been a full evacuation of the building.

In her evidence, Ms Callaghan said that two named supervisors and one named manager were aware that she took breaks in the Bailey Suite, as she would often say to them: “I am taking my break in the Bailey Suite.”

On the night in question, Ms Callaghan owned up to what had happened as she felt that if she took the blame she would just get a “slap on the hand” because of her service record.

Ms Callaghan told the Employment Appeals Tribunal that she did not receive any training in relation to the alarm or evacuation procedures.

In its determination, the EAT stated that the regulations may have prohibited the staff from using the Bailey Suite, however practice and procedure condoned by the supervisors and/or managers had allowed them to do so.

The EAT stated: “If the toast had not burned on the day, there would have been no incident, and consequently no dismissal.”

The EAT went on: “It was reasonably foreseeable that by permitting the staff to use the facility that toast could burn, therefore to chastise the claimant for this was unfair.”

The tribunal also noted that the toaster in the cabin for staff outside the premises was not working, and that rats were known to be in that area, which would diminish the acceptability of the use of the cabin.

Solicitor for Ms Callaghan, Gavan Mackay, said Ms Callaghan has not worked since that time.


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