A former field services technician for a wind energy company has been awarded €50,000 after successfully taking his previous employers to court in a case of wrongful dismissal.
The man, who’d been working at the company for almost a decade, was sacked along with another colleague over damage that was done to essential parts of a wind generator.
A colleague had told the company that the damage was done by “leaking pipes” rather than damaged caused by human error.
The man who took the case went on annual leave right after the repair job, and was told when he got back about the “broken pipes story”. It was his case that he went along with the story to “protect his teammate” although he was “very uncomfortable” about it.
While his employers said that the worker had engaged in “gross misconduct” which “warranted summary dismissal”, he claimed the disciplinary procedures used against him were unfair and that their decision to fire him was “predetermined”.
The worker and his colleague attended the scene of a repair job on a generator in February 2016. They tested it, and removed the brake unit from the rotor mechanism and performed other maintenance tasks.
He emailed technical support and the field area manager to say they’d removed the brake unit. There was no response from either mail to say that this was incorrect or contrary to health and safety procedures.
After finishing up the repairs, the worker who took the unfair dismissal went on a weeks’ annual leave.
While he was on leave, his co-worker who carried out the repairs with him spotted that the generator had been damaged. He was told by another colleague to say that the pipes had leaked.
The man taking the case said: “[My] teammate panicked when he saw that the generator had been damaged and he agreed to inform the office that the damage to the generator had been caused by leaking pipes, rather than the fact that the brake unit had been taken off, which was the actual reason for the damage.”
He said when he got back on 7 March his co-worker told him they’d blamed the damage on leaking pipes, and he decided to go along with it to protect his teammate, despite feeling “very uncomfortable” about it.
When two field area managers arrived at the site a week later on 14 March, the worker said he immediately clarified what had happened and told the truth about the incident.
Disciplinary action was initiated on the foot of this, and the worker was requested to attend a meeting on 7 April.
It was his assertion that the decision had already been made to sack him over this and the disciplinary meeting was merely “a lip service attempt to follow procedures”.
He claimed that his employers had not considered he had not sufficient or adequate training to carry out the necessary repairs, and also that his right to appeal was “no more than a rubber-stamping exercise”.
His employers, meanwhile, said that he was made fully aware of how serious the allegations were, was given the opportunity to respond to them, and was given the right to appeal the decision.
The Workplace Relations Commission adjudicator said he accepted that what occurred with the error in the repairs was “very serious”, but also said he had “serious concerns about how this matter was handled”.
It was judged that an instruction manual available to the workers did not contain information on the question of removing the brake unit. Furthermore, neither technical support nor the field manager replied to the email sent by the employee, where he pointed out they had removed the brake unit.
The other colleague – who advised saying the damage was caused by leaky pipes – on the other hand “continued in the employment without let or hindrance”, and the adjudicator considered this a serious breach of fair procedures.
In the letter informing of his dismissal, the WRC found that the specific reasons for his sacking weren’t included in the letter.
When he replied asking the reasons for dismissing him, he was given two additional reasons – the company’s reputation and financial cost to the company – that were never put to him at his disciplinary hearing.
The WRC adjudicator said it is a “very serious failing that of itself could render the dismissal unfair”.
He determined: “It is clear from the foregoing that the [worker] was not afforded fair procedures that protected his rights and that afforded him natural justice.”
Given the breakdown of the relationship between the two parties, the adjudicator said that compensation was the only appropriate redress.
The company was ordered to pay its former employee €50,000 as a result of this unfair dismissal.
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