A supervisor at a forestry services company, who was fired after thousands of young trees were discovered to have been dumped, has been awarded €19,024 in compensation under the Unfair Dismissals Act.
Vladomir Okuril took his case against his employer, Stephen Colhoun Ltd of Gortnavilly, Lifford, Co Donegal to the Employment Appeals Tribunal after he was fired along with two others for alleged fraud, theft and dumping of the trees. The tribunal, sitting in Letterkenny, heard Stephen Colhoun Ltd had a contract to replant trees for the National Forestry Board, at various sites.
In May 2011, 30 bags of new trees — 3,000 in all — and worth €6,500, were discovered dumped two to three miles from a planting site where Mr Okuril and the other two members of his team, one of whom who was his uncle, had been working.
Three men had been seen walking out of the area and the person who viewed them knew they worked for Stephen Colhoun Ltd, but did not know their names.
Mr Colhoun told the tribunal he had been brought by the Forestry Area foreman to the site where the trees had been dumped. The barcode of the trees identified them as the stock for the site where Mr Okuril and his team had been working.
He had not investigated the matter personally, but again met with the foreman to discuss the matter and decided he would dismiss Mr Okuril and his team.
He later wrote out a written warning and drove to the house when Mr Okuril, his uncle and some others were living. He asked to speak to Mr Okuril, but he did not come to the door. He handed the letter to his uncle and informed him that they were dismissed.
He told the tribunal that the foreman had given him no alternative but to dismiss the team as the dumped trees had come from the site they had been working on. The foreman did not want them back on site.
He felt he had dismissed him and the rest of the team in a fair manner. Trust had completely broken down and the incident had ruined his reputation with the Irish and Northern Irish Forestry Boards.
Mr Okuril said he had kept his own written diary of work he and the team had carried out on site. This record detailed the locations he worked on and the amount of trees delivered, planted and left over on location.
When his uncle handed in the letter of dismissal, he was shocked and could not understand why it had happened. He had only become aware of the quantity and value of the stock discarded on the hearing’s first day.
It had never been explained to him why he had been dismissed or that he could appeal the decision.
The tribunal ruled that the company bore the onus to justify the dismissal and had failed to do so. “There was an assumption of collective guilt which should not have occurred and the circumstances that existed did not justify a summary dismissal,” it ruled.
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