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Dublin: 9 °C Friday 23 March, 2018

Former airport search officer awarded over €9k after being sacked for 'supporting medicinal cannabis'

The man claimed he was fired for his political beliefs but failed to get reinstated to his position.

File photo: A different medical marijuana patient, uses a Herbalizer to fill a bag with cannabinoid vapor to manage chronic fibromyalgia in the US
File photo: A different medical marijuana patient, uses a Herbalizer to fill a bag with cannabinoid vapor to manage chronic fibromyalgia in the US
Image: Andy Cross/Getty Images

A FORMER EMPLOYEE of a regional airport has been awarded over €9,000 in the Labour Court over a case of unfair dismissal.

The worker had been fired from his role as a search unit officer, with the reasons given for the dismissal including “his support for the use of cannabis for medicinal use” and “his passionate advocacy of an illegal drug and his declared position as a cannabis activist”.

The worker took a case believing that he had been sacked for his “political beliefs” on cannabis and sought redress.

However, despite the complainant wishing to be reinstated to his job, the Labour Court determined that wasn’t the appropriate course of action, and awarded him compensation instead.


The complainant had been employed as a search unit officer for many years. His job involved inspection and screening of people and baggage in order to prevent prohibited items making it through security checks.

If, in the course of duty, an officer was to find an illegal drug or suspicious substance, they are required to report it to gardaí.

A number of years ago, the employee was called into a meeting with his superiors to discuss performance and behavioural standards at work.

At this point he said he was suffering from lower back pain and agreed to a medical examination, which included a drug test.

This test deemed that the employee was fit to return to work, but the drug test found cannabis in his system. He was then suspended from work with full pay.

At a follow-up disciplinary meeting accompanied by a union representative, the worker told his employers that he was using cannabis for medicinal reasons, and would continue to do so.

Just a few days later, the company told the man that he was being dismissed “on the grounds of gross misconduct with immediate effect”.

The reasons given were:

  • his support for the use of cannabis for medicinal use
  • his job role involved the use of technical equipment and image interpretation screens that monitor the public’s bags
  • his role involved the sensitive area of personal searches
  • lack of trust in him to fulfil his duties to the required level
  • his passionate advocacy of an illegal drug, and his declared position as a cannabis activist
  • his continuing use of the drug compromising his job, and
  • a lack of commitment from him to reduce or cease the use of cannabis

The employee appealed the decision on the grounds that his performance in work was always above average, he had no disciplinary record and that his security work was never compromised by his cannabis advocacy.

In response the employer said that it had lost trust in his ability to do his duties, his appeal had not eased its concerns about his behaviour and that his position had become compromised.

“Gross misconduct”

When the matter came to court, a solicitor for the employer said that the worker had failed a drug test, contravening its substance abuse policy.

This policy “provides specific provision for the screening of employees in safety sensitive positions, which include security operations”, the solicitor said.

They argued that the complainant could see nothing wrong in his behaviour, either, and had not indicated a willingness to enter into a rehabilitation programme.

The Labour Court judgement described the company’s argument: “At no point in the process did the complainant personally accept that he had any problem with the consumption of an illegal drug, cannabis, or that his role as a search unit officer could be compromised, or his judgement impaired, by same.”

The solicitor said the company was left with no alternative but to sack the man, given it was mindful of its duty of care to him, his fellow employees and members of the public.

Its case was that his behaviour amounted to gross misconduct and that neither should be reinstated nor given financial redress.

“Unreasonably harsh”

Because his original dismissal was said to be based on his “passionate” advocacy for cannabis, the employee argued that the inference could be drawn that it was the degree of his political belief in this regard was a factor in firing him.

His union advocate argued that, despite earlier citing “erratic” behaviour, there was no evidence of poor performance offered, meaning that gross misconduct was “unreasonably harsh”.

They furthermore said that there was no allegation that he had used cannabis at work or was under the influence of cannabis at work. They also said that the man has no intention of using cannabis again unless prescribed in accordance with Irish law.

Giving evidence to court, a manager of the employee said that colleagues had brought to his attention that the man had been “behaving irrationally” and had been contravening security measures. A HR manager, meanwhile, said that the employee ignored warnings about the seriousness of cannabis use and continued to say he’d use it.


In its determination, the Labour Court said that the company may have had a “cogent argument” in saying his views on cannabis could have compromised his ability to do his job.

However, as the burden of proving that the dismissal was wholly on the grounds of political belief is strong, the court was not satisfied that it came under those grounds.

The Labour Court did find flaws in how the company approached the dismissal.

It said: “Having carefully considered the facts as presented to the court, the court is satisfied that the respondent proceeded to dismiss the complainant without informing him that it had deemed his actions as ‘gross misconduct’ contrary to its disciplinary procedure.

Instead it relied on the outcome of the disciplinary hearing to justify summary dismissal.

Furthermore, and against the company’s substance abuse policy, no referral was made to the chief medical officer on his behalf.

Because of this, a ruling was made that this amounted to unfair dismissal.

Despite the employee wishing to be reinstated, the Labour Court ruled that request was not the “appropriate remedy” in this case, citing the lack of trust from the company in the worker, and the worker’s own non-cooperation with the company in refusing to stop taking the drug.

labour court

Awarding the man €5,000, the court added: “This sum reflects the extent to which the complainant, in the court’s view, contributed to his own dismissal.”

Additionally, the court found that the employee was entitled to six weeks’ notice of the termination of his employment, but was not given so.

He was then awarded an additional €4,311.

Read: A worker sacked after making a discrimination claim has been awarded €25,000

Read: Airport worker awarded €50,000 after being sacked for refusing to drive uninsured vehicle

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