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Bar told to pay €20,000 to waitress sacked over 'mystery shopper sting'


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A pub group has been ordered to pay €20,000 compensation to a bar worker who was unfairly dismissed for serving alcohol to two under-age customers.

In the case before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), the unnamed pub and restaurant chain mounted a 'mystery shopper' exercise organised by a private detective who employed a 17-year-old and 18-year-old to test purchase alcohol last July.

The sacked waitress claimed to the WRC it was a "sting operation".

She had two separate legal actions against her employer at the time and the mystery shopper exercise occurred less than a week after solicitors for the bar worker sent a legal letter to the group concerning one of the claims.

WRC adjudication officer Michael McEntee said the dismissal "is a nuclear option and the facts of this case did not in my mind warrant an almost automatic dismissal for gross misconduct".

Mr McEntee noted the test was carried out when the bar person was effectively alone serving food and drinks in the pub.

The mystery shopper episode took place on July 4 and the waitress was first suspended and then dismissed on July 12 after a disciplinary hearing took place on July 8.

As well as ordering the pub group to pay the woman the equivalent of a year's wages of €20,000, Mr McEntee also ordered the pub group to pay her €1,520 in notice payment that went unpaid.

He said the bar worker was very experienced "and there was absolutely no evidence presented that she had wilfully or with malign intent served the under-age persons such as to escalate it to a gross misconduct penalty".

Mr McEntee said the mystery shopper incident was not carried out by a serving member of the Garda.

He said the complainant's solicitor rightly queried the whole legality of the incident.

"To base a penalty as severe as dismissal on the incident was in my mind not one that a reasonable employer would support," he said.

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The woman's two legal actions against the company concerned a GDPR complaint relating to inappropriate disclosure of information regarding a sexual harassment complaint and the second in relation to an alleged personal injury which took place in December 2017.

Both legal actions were started in August 2018.

Mr McEntee also said he was "distinctly uneasy" concerning the unfair dismissal of the person involved in civil proceedings against her employer.

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