Friday 31 July 2015

Dunnes worker fired for selling alcohol to a minor awarded €13.5k for unfair dismissal

Brian McDonald

Published 30/08/2014 | 15:15

Lorraine Fitzpatrick
Lorraine Fitzpatrick

A Dunnes Stores worker who was sacked for selling alcohol to a minor has been awarded €13,500 for unfair dismissal.

The underage customer had been sold the alcohol as part of a garda test purchase at the Dunnes Stores convenience outlet in Drogheda on December 9, 2011.

Cashier Lorraine Fitzpatrick admitted she sold the drink to the customer without asking for ID - the company requires all checkout operators to ask for ID if the customer looks between 18 and 23 - but she told the Employment Appeals Tribunal that she had been worried about her sick child at home and wasn't thinking.

Ms Fitzpatrick admitted that she had queried herself about the customer's age after the purchase and as she was giving change.

Investigation

An employee with 12 years' service and no previous disciplinary issues, she was suspended following an investigation by management on December 12, 2011 and dismissed three days later.

Ms Fitzpatrick contended that she was having a conversation with the assistant manager during the sale and that she could have intervened to stop it. She believed that there was more concern over what might happen to the store than her and that she was dismissed to protect the company.

The store manager pointed out in evidence that training of staff on the sale of alcohol, tobacco and paracetamol products took place on a one-to-one basis every six months. The last training session Ms Fitzpatrick attended was on November 18, 2011. She had signed a declaration which included the line "up to and including dismissal".

The manager said that just before he had left the store on the evening of the underage purchase, he had seen an 18-year-old employee approach Ms Fitzpatrick's till beforehand.

He had reminded her that even though it was a staff member purchasing alcohol, she must still ask for ID. Staff members are required to request ID when a customer purchasing alcohol or tobacco looks between 18 and 23 years old.

He later received a phone call from the assistant manager informing him that an underage person had been sold alcohol as part of a garda test purchase. The garda had identified himself to the assistant manager and Ms Fitzpatrick and warned that the shop could be prosecuted.

Following his investigation and interviews with a number of staff members, including Ms Fitzpatrick, he considered other sanctions but believed the breach to have been so serious as to warrant dismissal.

Appeal

The tribunal concluded that in all the circumstances, the dismissal was unfair as fair procedures were not given to Ms Fitzpatrick. There was no evidence given to the tribunal as to the appeal process undertaken against the decision to dismiss.

The company's policies stated that an appeal would be heard by an appropriate member of management, but there was no oral appeal offered.

It also concluded that there was a lack of proportionality with the decision to dismiss, given the circumstances of the case and her background of 12 years' service.

Awarding her €13,500, the tribunal also ruled that Ms Fitzpatrick was entitled to notice on the basis of her 12 years of service.

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