Irish Rail signal man who allowed train traverse a level crossing with the barrier up loses unfair dismissal claim

Irish Rail

Gordon Deegan

An Irish Rail signal man who inadvertently allowed a train to traverse a level crossing while the barrier was up on his watch has lost his claim for unfair constructive dismissal.

It follows Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudicator, Patsy Doyle, finding that William Gillman cannot reach “the acknowledged high bar” in his claim for unfair constructive dismissal and “was not constructively dismissed”.

Ms Doyle concluded Mr Gillman “was not forced to resign, nor was there a trigger event immediately preceding the termination which compelled him to leave”.

She found staff relations “were cordial on his departure and his letter of resignation gave no clue of pressure or compulsion to leave.”

Ms Doyle described Mr Gillman resigning from his Irish Rail job as “a voluntary and courageous action” but pointed out that “the disputes resolution mechanism in the form of the grievance procedure was unused” by Mr Gillman.

Represented by solicitor, Kieran McCarthy in his WRC action, Mr Gillman worked for Iarnród Éireann from November 1999 until his resignation in August 2021.

However, Mr Gillman's relations with his employer deteriorated after a ‘career changing’ service incident during a storm in 2014 that resulted in disciplinary action and a demotion for Mr Gillman from signal man to senior depot person for the Category B and Category D safety breaches.

In evidence, Mr Gillman told the hearing that while he was working as a signal man a train traversed a level crossing, while the barrier was up.

He said that nobody was hurt, but the incident became an event of immediate operational concern to Irish Rail.

At investigation it transpired that Mr Gillman had overlooked one phone call and a later investigation revealed that he had omitted safety checks in the course of his duties.

As part of the disciplinary action, Mr Gillman was removed from performing certain safety critical tasks and was transferred to Cork station where his tasks included cleaning, crowd control and ticket checking.

Mr Gillman confirmed to the WRC hearing that “his own job was gone.”

Mr Gillman said that his station-based job "was a dreadful job” and his revised position began to have implications for his mental health, hobbies, and pastimes.

Mr Gillman began to form a suspicion that he was being “blackballed” by his employer and at interview for the post of train driver in 2019, he was met by a probing question from interviewers known to him where he was asked whether he had ever failed to undertake safety checks.

In response Mr Gillman confirmed he had done this and had been “sacked”.

Mr Gillman did not get the driver job and Mr Gillman formed a view that elevation back to the service “was never going to happen”.

In her findings, Ms Doyle accepted that Mr Gillman “felt trapped and stuck in a career vortex” but said that she would have much preferred to see an adherence to the robust company grievance procedures in place.

During a career development programme an external trainer recommended Mr Gillman leave the employment and consider alternative work.

Mr Gillman reflected on this advice, weighed up the pros and cons of a job offer he had been made and resigned and began new work in August 2021 with a reported differential loss of earnings of €13,153. per annum.

Irish Rail disputed the claim for unfair constructive dismissal and on behalf of Irish Rail, Industrial Relations Manager, John Brosnan submitted to the WRC that Mr Gillman had not been forced out and that his resignation was voluntary and not underpinned by an activation of a grievance.

Mr Brosnan said Irish Rail understood that Mr Gillman had chosen to leave on good terms and for a seamless transition to a higher paying position on August 23rd 2021.

Mr Brosnan said opportunities existed for Mr Gillman to action both the grievance procedure and dignity at work policies, but both lay unused.

On his resignation, Irish Rail accepted that Mr Gillman did not wish to resile from his submitted resignation and understood that his resignation was prompted by a new career offer rather than “anything work related”.