Business Irish

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Retail worker gets €15k in 'humiliating sacking' case

Stock image
Stock image

Gordon Deegan

A "very private" and "very large" retailer here has been ordered to pay €15,000 to an employee it humiliated when summarily sacking her for posting, in error, highly sensitive financial information to a third party.

The woman worked in the legal department of the retailer and was told by the head of the department "to pack up her things and go" after it was discovered that she inadvertently sent two "highly sensitive" confidential sets of financial information to the wrong accountancy firm used by the retailer.

The woman has successfully sued for unfair dismissal. Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer Niamh O'Carroll Kelly found that the decision to sack the woman was "grossly unfair" and "disproportionate".

Ms O'Carroll Kelly said that to dismiss her in the manner the retailer did "was humiliating".

In the case, the retailer told the hearing that the sending of the information could have had "potentially catastrophic financial repercussions". However, it accepted that there were no repercussions from the error.

The retailer, in sacking the woman, did not allow her to state her case or allow her appeal the decision as it viewed her action in sending the confidential financial information as "gross incompetence".

The retailer told the hearing that the woman was dismissed for gross misconduct and that sending the confidential information to a third party in error was a breach of trust and confidence.

The retailer accepted that she did not deliberately send the information.

The retailer stated that there is no defence that would change its view on how the situation should have been handled. The hearing heard the company goes to great lengths to protect its privacy by using different accountancy firms and "is very careful to manage the information given to each firm".

The identity of the retailer is protected by legislation passed by the Oireachtas in 2015 where parties in unfair dismissal actions are now not identified.

The only clues in the WRC report are that it is very large, very private and has stores across the country.

The retailer did not make available the financial information in question to Ms O'Carroll Kelly or solicitor for the complainant to adjudicate on how sensitive the documentation might be.

In her ruling, Ms O'Carroll Kelly said: "I do not agree with the respondent's analysis of the situation." She found that the woman did not damage the retailer in any way but may have caused some professional embarrassment.

Ms O'Carroll Kelly said that the woman should have been given an opportunity to state her case and should have had the benefit of a full disciplinary process.

She said: "Furthermore, I find that the dismissal of the complaint was disproportionate."

Ms O'Carroll Kelly said that it was open to the retailer to move the worker "to some other department where the very onus burden in relation to confidentiality did not exist". She said: "They didn't consider any other option outside of their own legal department."

The worker secured alternative employment in a solicitor's office last June and now earns €40,000 a year.

Irish Independent

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