A major retailer has been ordered to pay a store manager €15,000 after unfairly dismissing him for hugging other staff members.
This follows Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer, Patsy Doyle, finding that the store manager’s claim for unfair dismissal is well founded.
Ms Doyle said that the store manager “was wronged” by his employer and failings in the disciplinary process “caused him inordinate reputational damage”.
She said that the €15,000 compensation be paid in respect of the procedural unfairness and lapse in natural justice afforded to the store manager.
Ms Doyle added that she factored in a reduction in the award to take account of the store manager’s own contribution to his demise.
The man was dismissed from his post at the end of November 2018 and the dismissal letter told him: “I find your actions have fell below the expected standards we require from a member of management when colleagues have told you to stop hugging them, but you continued to do so”.
The letter went on:
As a member of the management team, I find your actions are wholly unacceptable and has resulted in colleagues being offended
The company, which established its Irish operations in 2011, launched an investigation into the store manager’s behaviour after a female member of staff had alleged that other staff had told her that they felt uncomfortable with his inappropriate behaviour, including unwanted physical touching.
The store manager said that he had not had a complaint against him in his seven years with the retailer and told his employer that while he had hugged staff, no one had taken serious offence to it and it was “banter in the workplace”.
In a bid to save his job the store manager appealed the dismissal internally. He said that “hugging was a universal practice, not just to females and should be viewed as a minor misconduct and not gross misconduct”.
He went on to say that if he had been directed to stop he would have and argued that dismissal was not warranted and the sanction disproportionate.
However, on March 11 last, the store manager was informed that the decision to dismiss had been upheld. The man secured alternative work last April.
The retailer, currently developing and expanding in Ireland, told the WRC the store manager’s actions in the case “amounted to breach of trust between the parties in the employment relationship”.
The retailer stated: “This served as an unacceptable departure from the staff handbook on the core value of 'Respect each other' and amounted to serious misconduct warranting summary dismissal.”
The retailer’s appeal manager in the case said that no complaint of harassment had arise,n but four to five staff out of a total of 18 to 20 had been negatively impacted by the actions of the store manager.
Under cross-examination at the WRC hearing, the store manager confirmed that he had pinched a female member of staff and argued that his behaviour amounted to horse play
The store manager told the WRC hearing that “hugging“ was a widespread practice at the shop and was not reserved for females.
Ms Doyle stated that no apparent action was taken to probe or curtail the store manager’s “very unusual behaviour. I have made no finding on the complainant’s guilt or innocence in that regard”.
She said that it remains unclear what case the complainant was being asked to respond to outside “pushing and hugging“.
Ms Doyle said: “It is unclear how the term gross misconduct evolved.”
Ms Doyle also ordered the employer to pay the store manager an additional €2,975 over not paying the man’s notice.