Man fired for email slurs pins blame on 'toxic office'
AN employee who was sacked after sending disparaging emails about his CEO to Leinster House said he regrets his actions but he did so because he was "pushed over the precipice" by the "toxic environment" in his workplace.
Father-of-three John Flanagan (54), from Clontarf, Dublin, claimed in an Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) that he was unfairly dismissed from his position as senior educational welfare officer with the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) in November 2010.
The tribunal heard that the former manager and IMPACT trade union representative for the semi-state body was dismissed for gross misconduct after he sent two emails to members of the Oireachtas in February 2010 which question- ed the board's management by then CEO Eddie Ward.
The board is responsible for ensuring that children attend school or are registered to be schooled at home.
Mr Flanagan alleged in the emails sent February 18 and 20, that Mr Ward – who was on a seven-year fixed contact with the board – regarded his post as " a personal fiefdom" and "made decisions from his penthouse suite" despite serious concerns over waste of public money and mismanagement.
Mr Flanagan also wrote to former Taoiseach Brian Cowen in October 2010, claiming that he had been "drummed out" of the board for whistle-blowing.
The tribunal heard that Mr Flanagan later apologised for the emails during a disciplinary meeting on the issue and said: " I know people think I'm quite difficult at times" but "I do try to be fair."
However, he said he did so because: "I didn't like the way people were being treated."
"I regret what I've done but I was put over the precipice," he said.
Pat MacSitric, acting chief executive of NEWB, told the tribunal that Mr Flanagan's actions were seen as a serious breach of trust and confidence even though there were no issues with his performance on the job.
"A key issue with the board was if Mr Flanagan continued in employment, what assurances were there that his behaviour wouldn't continue?" Mr MacSitric told the tribunal yesterday.
"The board was not convinced that Mr Flanagan was genuine in his expressions of regret.
"Ultimately it came to whether the board had trust and confidence in the employee and the board decided that it didn't have that confidence.
"The core issue for them (the board) was that a member of staff had gone to 160 public representatives," he said of the emails to the Oireachtas.
"The integrity of the board was being undermined," he added.
The hearing has been adjourned until March 26 for a two-day sitting.