The Labour Court has found that a decision by Aer Lingus to sack a cabin crew member who was stopped at Dublin Airport by Customs Officers at having 50 times the permitted volumes of imported cigarettes was not unfair.
In the case, long serving cabin crew member, Dick Fagan was stopped after arriving off a flight from Geneva on June 25, 2015.
Mr Fagan was asked to open his bag where Customs Officers found that Mr Fagan was in possession of 2,000 duty-free cigarettes where the statutory limit allowed for import by members of cabin crew is 40 cigarettes.
Mr Fagan had completed the purchase of the duty free cigarettes on board the Aer Lingus aircraft himself rather than via the on-board senior.
Aer Lingus’ Director of Employee Relations and Change was contacted by the Revenue’s Customs Enforcement Service and informed of the incident.
After Aer Lingus confirmed the facts with Mr Fagan, he was stood down from duty and he was dismissed for gross misconduct having worked for the airline since 1994.
In his findings, Labour Court chairman, Kevin Foley found that the decision of Aer Lingus to dismiss Mr Fagan was within the band of responses of a reasonable employer.
Mr Foley found that there were substantial grounds which justified the dismissal.
The case was before the Labour Court as a result of Mr Fagan appealing a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruling that the dismissal was not unfair in November 2016.
Mr Foley stated that Mr Fagan argued that there was a culture of tolerance within the Aer Lingus for breach of customs regulations by flight staff but pointed out that Mr Fagan put no evidence before the court to support this contention.
In three other disciplinary ’cigarette’ cases involving Aer Lingus staff members, Aer Lingus stated that one other staff member was dismissed; a second was suspended without pay for two weeks and placed on a final written warning and in the case of the third the cabin crew member resigned the employment on the following day.
Mr Fagan stated that an Aer Lingus pilot who breached customs regulations and been the subject of action by customs authorities in 2014 had not been the subject of disciplinary action.
Aer Lingus stated that the matter had never been brought to the attention of its HR department at that time or since and if it had been, the matter would have been dealt with entirely differently.
Mr Fagan had argued that in light of his long and unblemished career, the decision to dismiss him was disproportionate and unreasonable.
On the amount of cigarettes, Mr Fagan argued that that it was a regular thing to buy cigarettes for friends.
Mr Fagan never considered such activity was a ‘sackable’ offence and stated that he knew about previous cases where cabin crew had been disciplined or dismissed but that his circumstance was different in that he was not profiting from the breach of customs regulations.
In evidence, Mr Fagan accepted that he broke the law and Aer Lingus’s procedures.
He accepted that he had a duty to tell Aer Lingus about the matter after it occurred but that he did not do so.