It is a fundamental concept of employment law that an employee is entitled to natural justice and fair procedure in respect of any termination of employment. These principles include basic rights such as a thorough independent investigation where allegations are made against an employee and to determine, on balance, whether any sanctions imposed on the employee on foot of disciplinary action (whether dismissal or otherwise) are proportionate. Where findings are made against an employee on foot of a proper investigation, it naturally follows that a properly conducted disciplinary hearing should be scheduled and to ensure that the employee has the right, amongst other things, to understand the very nature of the allegations against them.
In the recent Labour Court case of Connemara Marble Industries Limited and Frances Murphy, the employer appealed the Workplace Relations Commission decision to the Labour Court and ultimately lost. Whilst it was found that the employee may have caused sufficient disruption to the business on a particular day to justify her suspension and possible dismissal, the failure by the employer to conduct an investigation to allow the employee put her side of the story in respect of events and to subsequently hold a disciplinary hearing, was fundamental to the claim of unfair dismissal.
The employee was awarded €25,000 in this case.
Employment Law Case Tip
Every employer should have at the very least, comprehensive contracts of employment in place and an Employee Handbook. If you do not have policies in place yet, a fundamental starting point should be a Grievance and Disciplinary Policy and the Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary hearings provides some very useful information on where to start. A link can be found here.