Thursday 17 January 2019

Major retailer fires 11 staff members for having pre-party drinks in store backroom

A group of staff was having Christmas drinks after its store had closed
A group of staff was having Christmas drinks after its store had closed

Gordon Deegan

A major clothing retailer sacked 11 members of staff after they were found drinking or possessing Mexican beer as part of pre-Christmas party drinks event in the backroom of one of its outlets.

A group of staff was having Christmas drinks after its store had closed three days before Christmas Day in 2015.

However, the mass sacking took place as a result of a company investigation after a store security man, or ‘Asset Protection Investigator’, entered the backroom of the store at around 10pm on December 22 and saw staff members consuming the Mexican beer.

There was alcohol on the table and in people’s hands and the store security man approached the most senior member of staff and asked them all to leave.

As a result of the incident, 11 members were sacked for gross misconduct, including one 18-year-old Leaving Cert student and he has now successfully sued for unfair dismissal.

This follows the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) upholding his claim for unfair dismissal with adjudication officer Kevin Baneham awarding the teen €400.

Mr Baneham said the teen’s actions did not constitute gross misconduct and said the €400 award was just and equitable given the number of hours worked by the teenager and the fact his contract was coming to an end.

In upholding the claim for unfair dismissal, Mr Baneham said members of management at the store organised the informal drinks; the store had closed; staff had assembled at the back of the store and there was no evidence of drunkeness or damage to the store.

The teen was a part-time worker at the shop and earning €9.50 per hour before his dismissal on January 26, 2016.

He told the hearing that training with a sports team at the time of the Christmas drinks and was not drinking at the event as he was abstaining from alcohol at the time.

At the hearing, the unnamed retailer – which employs between 3,500 and 4,000 employees in the UK along with the unspecified numbers in its Irish workforce – was represented by major legal firm AL Goodbody, while the boy’s mother accompanied him to the WRC hearing.

In evidence, the teen said in 2015 he was completing his Leaving Cert and was glad to be working at the store for pocket money that Christmas.

He said at least 15 people, including two members of management, were in the store’s ‘break out’ room for the drinks.

He said after about an hour, the store security man entered the room for less than one minute and the group left and went to a pub.

He said that he was drinking from a paper cup and the investigator could not have known what was inside the cup.

The teen challenged the fairness of his dismissal on the basis that others, in particular managers, were given severe warnings as opposed to dismissal.

The firm stated that the worker has been dismissed after there had been a thorough, fair and reasonable disciplinary process.

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