A major retailer has been ordered to pay a store manager €15,000 after unfairly dismissing him for hugging staff members.
Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer Patsy Doyle found the man "was wronged" by his employer and failings in the disciplinary process "caused him inordinate reputational damage".
She said she factored in a reduction in the award to take account of the manager's own contribution to his sacking.
The man was dismissed in November 2018, with the dismissal letter saying: "I find your actions have fallen below the expected standards we require from a member of management when colleagues have told you to stop hugging them, but you continued to do so."
The company - which set up its Irish operations in 2011 - launched an investigation into the store manager's behaviour after an employee alleged that other staff had told her they felt uncomfortable with his inappropriate behaviours including unwanted touching.
The manager said he had not had a complaint against him in his seven years with the retailer and appealed internally.
He told his employer that, while he had hugged staff, no one had taken serious offence and it was "banter in the workplace".
He added that if he had been directed to stop he would have.
However, last March 11, the store manager was informed that the decision to dismiss him had been upheld. He secured alternative work last April.
The retailer told the WRC that the store manager's actions "amounted to breach of trust between the parties in the employment relationship".
The retailer's appeal manager in the case stated that no complaint of harassment had arisen but four to five staff out of a total of 18 to 20 had been negatively impacted by the store manager's actions.
Under cross-examination at the WRC hearing, the store manager confirmed that he had pinched a female member of staff but argued that his behaviour amounted to horseplay.
He told the hearing that hugging "was a widespread practice at the shop and was not reserved for females".
Ms Doyle stated that no apparent action was taken to probe or curtail the store manager's "very unusual behaviour".
She also ordered the employer to pay him an additional €2,975 for not paying his notice.