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Bakery says it dismissed worker for making chewing gum 'stick man'

The worker claimed in the Labour Court that this wasn’t the real reason for his dismissal.

Image: Shutterstock/Billion Photos

A MAN WHO was dismissed from his job in a food company after being accused of sticking chewing gum to a production line table in the form of a “stick man” has been awarded €6,000 for unfair dismissal in the Labour Court.

The court recently heard the case of Graham Rogers, who’d been dismissed from Joseph Brennan Bakeries – which makes Brennan’s Bread in Walkinstown in Dublin – in August 2016 after four years working with the company.

The company’s case was that the man had breached policy by chewing gum within the bakery production area, but the worker’s case was that he was one of many other staff members who had done so and to dismiss him was a “breach of fair procedures” and that he’d been singled out.

The Labour Court ruled in the man’s favour, finding his dismissal as “procedurally unfair”.

The company’s case

The Labour Court said that Joseph Brennan Bakeries submitted that it had very strict policies regarding food and hygiene. It said that Rogers had been certified following completion of a training course in health and hygiene awareness in the bakery trade in 2013.

The disciplinary police at the company stated that serious misconduct could warrant immediate dismissal. One breach that would count as serious misconduct was the rule on “no food, drink or chewing gum permitted anywhere within the bakery production areas”.

It is the company’s case that, on 22 August 2016, it became aware the employee was chewing gum in the production area, and that he was drying the gum and “sticking it onto the production line table legs in the form of a ‘stick man’”.

The company said that Rogers was shown photographs of the “chewing gum stick man” and, at a subsequent disciplinary hearing with senior managers, he was advised that he would be removed from his position.

It said that the worker did not appeal the decision, despite being offered the opportunity to do so, and that if he had not been disciplined appropriately “it would have given the impression to other employees that such conduct was not viewed by the [company] as serious or incorrect”.

The Labour Court heard testimony from the shift manager, who said there wouldn’t be loose materials like bottles or wrappers allowed on the production floor. He described finding the “chewing gum man”, and looking back on the CCTV footage which clearly showed that it was Rogers who’d dried the chewing gum with a fan and attached it to the pillar.

The general manager also gave evidence and described how he’d also seen the CCTV. He testified that the worker had admitted to being the one who’d done it and he had then reached a decision with the department head to dismiss the man.

The worker’s case

Rogers submitted to the court that the reason for his dismissal was due to his relationship with a relative of a manager of the bakery. He said he had been rostered in an unusual manner after this relationship.

He said that the company did not enforce a policy against food or drink being permitted in the bakery area. He submitted that it wasn’t unusual for workers to bring food or drink into the bakery area, and for workers to be chewing gum.

He said he became aware around 22 August 2016 that workers had taken to sticking chewing gum to a pillar on the factory floor, and that he did stick two pieces of chewing gum on it that day. He also, however, said he was not the only one to do so and never admitted to “solely being responsible for the ‘chewing gum man’”.

Rogers also said he apologised at a meeting afterwards to his superiors, but had been dismissed nonetheless. He said he wasn’t advised in writing of the allegations against him, or notified in writing about the investigation or disciplinary hearings against him.

The Labour Court said: “He submitted that he had been singled out for disciplinary sanction notwithstanding the fact that a number of employees had engaged in the same activity.”

In his testimony, the worker referred to himself as the “fall guy”, and had been unfairly dismissed.

Labour Court ruling

The Labour Court found that the company’s disciplinary policy clearly set out a ban on chewing gum on the production floor, and that such a breach could lead to dismissal.

It found that – since Rogers admitted to doing it – that he had put chewing gum on the pillar on the day in question.

The court found that the failure of the company to set out to him in writing the allegations against him, and the CCTV footage involved, were “significant failures of the procedure followed in dealing with this matter”.

Although the worker was offered the chance to have representation, not being given notice of the investigation meeting “undermined that offer”.

In summary, the Labour Court said:

In all the circumstances, the court finds that the dismissal of the [worker] was procedurally unfair.
The court however also finds that the [worker], through his behaviour, contributed significantly to his dismissal and this has been taken into account in considering redress. The court has also taken account of the appellant failure to appeal the decision to dismiss.

It also said that because the man had secure alternative employment, compensation would be an appropriate form of redress. The worker has submitted claims regarding loss of earnings after his dismissal, and the court said it took that into account.

In conclusion, the Labour Court found that the worker, through his conduct, was “60% responsible for his dismissal”. As a result, it ordered his former employers to pay him a sum of €6,000.

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Sean Murray

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