Monday 10 December 2018

Shop assistant fired for selling one bottle of beer on Good Friday 2017 awarded €7k damages for unfair dismissal

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Gordon Deegan

A retailer sacked a shop assistant after she sold a bottle of beer to a customer on Good Friday of last year.

However, the retailer must now pay the shop assistant €7,000 after the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found that she was unfairly dismissed and that her complaint for unfair dismissal ‘is well founded’.

The retailer said that it could have been in substantial trouble for the sale of alcohol on a prohibited day, including a possible temporary closure of the premises.

It is only this year that retailers and publicans can sell alcohol on Good Fridays after the Government lifted the ban that had been in place since 1927.

In the case before the WRC, the woman said that she made a genuine mistake in selling the bottle of beer on April 14th 2017 but her bosses sacked her for gross misconduct.

The woman told the WRC hearing that there were no reasonable grounds for the dismissal.

She said that it was not fair as her employer had not reminded staff not to sell alcohol on the day and that the effort to cordon off the alcohol was obviously not sufficient to stop customers who wanted to access alcohol on the day to do so.

The woman also pointed out that the cash tills were not set up to prohibit the sale like it does on other times when alcohol is prohibited.

The woman told the hearing that the sanction of dismissal for selling a bottle of beer was totally disproportionate. She disputed that she knowingly sold a bottle of beer to a customer on the day in question

The worker also stated that her former employer didn’t comply with any procedures in dismissing her.

The retailer told the hearing that the store manager noticed that there had been a sale of beer on Good Friday and having reviewed the CCTV was able to determine that the sales assistant was responsible for the sale.

On April 24th 2017, the store manager had a meeting with the sales assistant with the employee’s brother also in attendance.

The store manager said that she had a conversation with the two directors before the meeting and it was agreed that if there was no good reason or valid excuse for the sale of the bottle of beer, the woman’s contract would be terminated.

The store manager said that the woman sold the bottle of alcoholic beer to a customer even though the alcohol area had been cordoned off and there were signs erected to warn against the sale of alcohol on that day.

The retailer stated that the CCTV showed that the customer had reached in over the red tape in the cordoned off section and took the bottle.

At a meeting with the store manager, the worker asked the store manager was it fair that she was being dismissed because she made a single mistake on “one sale item of the possible 1,000 or so sale transactions” that she processed on a 7-hour shift that day?

The retailer said that it had a number of issues with the woman’s work during her time working there and that she received a verbal warning on February 14th 2017 for not locking up the back door of the shop correctly and for leaving a large sum of money downstairs at the cash registers instead of locking it carefully away.

The woman had worked at the store since May 2015 and was earning €227 per week based on an hourly wage of €9.25.

In his findings, WRC Adjudication Officer, James Kelly found that the worker should have been more vigilant.

He said: “The sale of one bottle of beer appears minor in isolation however, the possibility of the consequences on the business, with the possible temporary closure should it have been reported and prosecuted are significant."

He added: “Accordingly, I find that the actions of the respondent were within the range of reasonable responses open to it and that substantial grounds did exist to justify the complainant’s dismissal.”

However, Mr Kelly added that the he was satisfied that this is not the type of case that summary dismissal would be considered proportional for an act of gross misconduct.

Mr Kelly also found that the dismissal was procedurally flawed. He found that the worker was not appraised of exactly what she was meant to be accused of, nor was she been put on notice of the possible consequences facing her.

Mr Kelly also found that the worker could not have been prepared for a meeting which served as the investigatory meeting, the disciplinary meeting and the meeting to deliver a summary dismissal.

He said: “The whole process constituted a major omission which goes to the heart of unreasonableness. The respondent has a duty of care to the complainant and appears to have abdicated itself from that duty and went straight to a summary dismissal.”

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