A woman who suffered from post-traumatic stress due to the presence of rats and mice at her workplace has been awarded €20,000 in damages against her for former employer.
The Labour Court found Amanda Byrne was victimised and suffered harassment and a discriminatory dismissal at the hands of her employers, Sea and Shore Safety Services Ltd, in a dispute that stemmed from the firm’s failure to deal adequately with a rodent problem at its premises.
Earthworks at an adjoining property resulted in a rodent problem in 2008 at the marine safety training firm’s property on Glenamuck Rd, Carrickmines, Dublin, and the problem re-emerged in 2010.
Ms Byrne has had a long-term phobia towards rodents and first reported a mouse running along her office desk in June 2008.
Ms Byrne also reported seeing rats at an increasing rate around the property, on one occasion nearly stepping on a large rat outside her office in July 2010.
She told the court she was terrified to walk from her car to the office after seeing a rat walk across the carpark and on another occasion saw a rat run down the hall into the office area.
The problem was exacerbated by her employer laying poison for the rats around the property, resulting in a stench from the dead rats’ decaying remains on site. Ms Byrne told the Labour Court that the smell “was foul and unbearable”.
A medical report found Ms Byrne suffered from “excess anxiety and post-traumatic stress due to ongoing exposure to rodents at her place of work”.
In a letter to her employers while still at work, Ms Byrne said: “For some time now, I have been completely unhappy, stressed and nervous about coming into my workplace because of rodents…
“I require a safe working environment. At the very least, I expect the office to be free of rodents.”
Managing director Michael Langran told the court in retrospect the company did not do enough to accommodate Ms Byrne in relation to her rodent phobia. She took certified sick leave as a result of the rodent problem in periods during 2008 and again in 2010.
She returned to work in August 2010 to be confronted by the smell of dead rodents. The court found she also encountered a hostile and intimidating environment towards her in relation to her fresh complaints.
Ms Byrne left work, never to return, and the firm made her redundant the following month due to what it stated were its deteriorating finances.
Overturning a ruling last year by an equality officer dismissing Ms Byrne’s case, the Labour Court found that Ms Byrne’s complaints in relation to victimisation, harassment and dismissal were well founded and ordered the payment of the €20,000 by the firm.
The court found on the balance of probabilities, the firm decided to dismiss Ms Byrne as a means of dealing with the employment equality issues she was raising.
The firm did not return a call for comment on the court’s ruling.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved