Friday 15 December 2017

Bus driver with fainting condition who wants her job back, says she did not get stressed from job

Claire McKevitt leaving court after the opening day of the High Court action. Photo: Collins Courts
Claire McKevitt leaving court after the opening day of the High Court action. Photo: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

A bus driver involuntarily retired because it was alleged she might pass out at the wheel due to a health condition told the High Court she did not get stressed from driving in Dublin.

Claire McKevitt (38), who has a child with special needs, said it was at home where she was stressed.  "Going to work was getting away from it, I never felt the job was stressful".

Ms McKevitt says she was unfairly dismissed by Dublin Bus and should be reinstated or compensated.  Dublin Bus says it retired her on health grounds after a long absence for illness.

The court heard Ms McKevitt, who was attached to the Phibsboro Garage, has a condition called Vasovagal Syncope which can make a person prone to fainting, especially in stressful situations.

Dublin Bus says driving a bus in the city is a stressful occupation and it has to be sure there is no risk to its driver, passengers or the public.

Ms McKevitt, Walkinstown Drive, Dublin, says she was cleared to return to commercial driving work in 2014 in a report from the falls and blackout unit of St James Hospital in Dublin.

An Employment Appeals Tribunal had found she was unfairly dismissed and awarded her €17,000.

Dublin Bus appealed that decision and the Circuit Court also found unfair dismissal but reduced the award to €10,000.  That court found she should have been heard and independently examined before the decision to retire her was taken.

She joined Dublin Bus in 2007 and in 2009 began to experience health difficulties.  She had over 200 days of sick leave between July 2009 and February 2012 and then went on permanent sick leave until April 2014 when she was retired.

She had a blackout in November 2011 and was referred to St James where she told doctors she had a history of blackouts over the previous ten years.

The hospital's falls and blackout unit ultimately recommended she could return to work but the Dublin Bus chief medical officer (CMO) recommended she should not be allowed return to driving duties from April 2014. 

The bus company asked the High Court to overturn the Circuit Court decision of unfair dismissal. It claims retirement on health grounds is no one's fault and not a disciplinary process.

It says there is no right of appeal because the decision on whether someone is fit to drive a bus, with all the risks that entails, is not a function of anyone other than the company's CMO.

Ms McKevitt claims she was not given an opportunity to challenge the decision before it was taken. 

At a resumed hearing on Tuesday, Ms McKevitt told her counsel, Oisin Quinn, when she attended the company's occupational physician in January 2014, she thought it was just a normal review of her situation.  

She was out of work because of Syncope condition but the doctor brought up a number of other matters including her small stature to be a bus driver, she said.

After she was told she would be retired on ill health, she obtained a letter from St James saying she was fit for return to duty.

She said she needed to return to work for her family and for herself as she was not a type of person to just "sit around".

Asked by Frank Callanan SC, for the Dublin Bus, how she could be surprised at the decision to retire her when she had been out sick from February 2012 until she was retired in April 2014, she said it did come like a bolt out of the blue.  This was particularly so after she got the all clear from St James to return to driving.

She told Mr Callanan she did not accept the suggestion by the company that bus driving was a difficult and stressful job.

Ms Justice Una Ní Raifeartaigh reserved her decision.

Online Editors

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News