Irishman's sacking by US firm for bathing feet in canteen food container 'reasonable'
A US multinational sacked a worker here after he washed his feet in a container used for serving food in the factory canteen.
Martin Conroy sued for unfair dismissal against Baxter Healthcare and now the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) has found that it was reasonable for Baxter to conclude that Mr Conroy’s actions amounted to gross misconduct and that the firm was justified in sacking the long serving employee.
The EAT stated that what Mr Conroy did in washing his feet in the stainless steel container used for serving food represented “unacceptable behaviour in the workplace”.
A union shop steward, BOK gave evidence at the hearing and under cross examination, BOK said he had only heard about the “feet” incident after it had occurred and told the tribunal that he could not believe it.
Mr Conroy commenced working with the firm in 1977 and was promoted and moved to the Swinford base of the company in Co Mayo in 1989 and was employed as an electrical craftsman.
The unfair dismissal case was heard on eight separate days in Castlebar between April 25th 2016 and June 14th last and Mr Conroy told the tribunal that the decision to sack him in May 2014 was too harsh in the circumstances.
Mr Conroy said that around the time of the incident, he was very stressed and was suffering with diabetes.
He said that his doctor had advised him to look after himself and his feet as they could be susceptible to burning and sores due to the illness.
Mr Conroy told the Tribunal that he had taken to bathing his feet while working but only for medical purposes.
He agreed he had bathed his feet on the occasion in question and when he had been questioned about it he had admitted to using a steel receptacle to bathe his feet but had cleaned it thoroughly with anti bacterial soap when he was finished before returning it.
Under cross examination, Mr Conroy stated that, in hindsight, it had been the wrong to do using the utensil from the canteen to bathe his feet but again stated that he had only used it for medical purposes and had cleaned it thoroughly afterwards.
When put to him that he had never apologised for what he had done, he replied that “I would now”.
When put to him that he had given different versions of what had occurred regarding the steel container he replied that he could not recall.
Mr Conroy told the tribunal that he had not been in a good place at the time and felt that Baxter had had “no compassion.”
At a meeting with Baxter before his dismissal, Mr Conroy claimed that other staff were using canteen utensils for other things on the factory floor. He was asked for examples and who these people were but Mr Conroy would not offer up any names.
The company interviewed 25 employees in relation to the matter and the issues raised by Mr Conroy regarding other staff using canteen utensils on the factory floor and a final investigation repot was issued to Mr Conroy.
Baxter wrote to Mr Conroy that to tell him that his employment would be terminated as “the bond of trust and confidence that form the foundation of our relationship with you has been irretrievably broken and we are left with no option other than to terminate your contract of employment effective as of today May 29th 2014.”
Mr Conroy claimed that the decision to dismiss him was motivated by mala fides on the part of Baxter towards him and that effectively he was a marked man.
Mr Conroy also complained that Baxter had not taken into his account his attendance record and previous good conduct.
The tribunal found that Mr Conroy had washed his feet in a stainless steel container which was used for serving food and was of the view that this is unacceptable behaviour in the workplace.
The Tribunal also found that Mr Conroy gave inconsistent evidence regarding the container used and attempted to deflect responsibility
The EAT found that the decision to sack Mr Conroy was reasonable.
The EAT concluded: “In this case, the Tribunal cannot accept that the mitigating factors referred to by the claimant (Mr Conroy) such as his work record could change the respondent’s (Baxter's) decision in relation to sanction. The Tribunal is of the opinion that the respondent dealt with the issue fairly and that it was not motivated by any other agenda.”