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Sales assistant sacked after shop-lifting incident ‘should be paid €6,000 compensation’

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A former sales assistant was sacked after €500 worth of goods were stolen while he was in a storeroom.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has recommended that his employer pay him €6,000 compensation.

An adjudication officer found there was a “complete absence of fair procedures” in his dismissal from a lifestyle goods shop.

The worker, who earned €10.50 an hour, was employed since October 2019 until he was dismissed in August last year.

He did not have a year’s service, which is necessary to make a claim for unfair dismissal so referred the dispute to the adjudication officer to investigate and issue a recommendation.

The worker said there were usually two members of staff on the shop floor on August 25 last year, but near the end of the day he was alone while management were upstairs.

A customer rang requesting an item that he ordered online was sent that evening, so he went to the back of the store to get it.

He was aware there was another customer browsing, but discovered he was using an open book to hide the fact that he was putting items in a bag. He left the store when he began to walk towards him. The incident was reported to gardaí.

After he closed up, the general manager called him to her office and told him she was letting him go with four weeks’ notice as they could not afford the loss due to the theft.

He said he was overwhelmed and upset and tried to leave the room but she prevented him and told him to calm down.

The worker went in the next day and was given tasks that were not in his job description, including climbing a ladder to change lighting fixtures. He said his letter of termination gave no reason why he was being dismissed.

He said he never received any clear instructions for managing shop-lifting until a written memo was issued to staff after the incident.

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It said staff were not to do another task at the back of the shop, in the packaging area or on the till unless they were serving a customer.

As he had been serving an online customer, he said he was confused about his dismissal.

The worker was laid off while the store was closed during the pandemic and received the pandemic unemployment payment.

After he lost his job, he was on social welfare for six months and had since returned to third level education.

His employer, who did not attend the hearing, claimed in an email that his employment was properly terminated in accordance with its obligations.

Adjudication officer Aideen Collard said the Labour Court has consistently found employers are required to give employees with less than a year’s service due process before a decision to terminate employment is taken.

She said the worker was completely blameless in relation to the shop lifting incident, “particularly given the absence of any written protocol or formal training”.

“Unfortunately, there remains a common misconception amongst a minority of employers that fair procedures are not required when an employee has less than a year’s service and they can simply be dismissed without due process, perhaps based on a misapprehension that they will not be legally exposed,” she said.

Ms Collard recommended that management undergo human resources training in relation to its statutory obligations towards employees.

Employment law solicitor Richard Grogan said he felt sorry for employees with less than a year’s service as the employer is not obliged to follow the recommendation.

“People often contact us to say they’ve won their case under the industrial relations act because they can’t take one under unfair dismissals legislation,” he said.

“They ask what they can do to enforce it. Our answer is, nothing, as it’s not legally binding.”


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