Vodafone whistleblower ‘must be reinstated’

A rights commissioner has ruled that a Vodafone employee who blew the whistle on a multimillion-euro fraud at the company and was later dismissed, should be reinstated.

The commissioner did not link the dismissal of John Bagge, a former compliance analyst with the company, to the whistleblowing.

However, she found he was unfairly dismissed after an absence from work due to work-related stress.

Four years prior to his dismissal, Mr Bagge had blown the whistle on a senior staff member who was committing a major fraud.

Vodafone later claimed Mr Bagge should have reported the fraud much sooner, saving the firm from the significant losses it incurred.

However, Impact, the trade union representing Mr Bagge, said Vodafone management failed in its duty of care to offer ongoing support afterwards.

A case was taken in 2009. The Labour Court recommended Mr Bagge be awarded €12,000 compensation. The court said the absence of appropriate supports and procedures in the company caused him to suffer significant anxiety and distress, resulting in him requiring a prolonged period of sick leave.

Mr Bagge reported sick with work-related stress on May 27, 2011. His doctor gave him a certificate for three weeks’ sick leave, but the company doctor found “no medical reason” for his continued absence.

Vodafone wrote to him and ordered him to return to work on June 27. He neither responded nor returned to work.

The company wrote to him again telling him his absence was considered unauthorised, that he was being removed from the payroll, and that could lead to disciplinary action against him.

A series of disciplinary hearings were scheduled during July which Mr Bagge did not attend.

After a hearing on July 21, which Mr Bagge did attend, Vodafone started proceedings to dismiss him, saying there were allegations against him which amounted to acts of misconduct.

Impact appealed the company’s actions to the Rights Commissioner. The union argued the sacking was the culmination of years of victimisation, which followed Mr Bagge’s decision to reveal fraud in his workplace.

The commission did not comment on that claim. However, it ruled the company’s sick leave policy was silent on how a difference in opinion between the company’s and employee’s doctors should be handled.

“I find that in the absence of stated company policy/ procedure on how such a difference in medical opinions will be dealt with, the claimant could not be found to be in breach of company policy in this matter,” said the commissioner.

“How such a difference in medical opinions is dealt with by the employer who has a duty of care to the employee is particularly pertinent in a situation where the medical symptoms are work-related stress...”

She found Mr Bagge was unfairly dismissed and should be reinstated from the date of dismissal to the position he previously held. Vodafone is reviewing the documentation.


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