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'If that was a dress I'd rip it off': €600 for bus driver dismissed after complaint about children's escort

The issue arose after the driver complained about the behaviour of the school caretaker during his bus run.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Pat Shrader

A DRIVER WHO expressed concerns after a school caretaker tickled and made inappropriate remarks to children on his bus has been awarded €600 by the Workplace Relations Commission.

The issue arose in early November 2016, after the driver expressed concerns about the caretaker, Mr Y, who had replaced the regular escort to accompany children on the bus.

The driver said that on that occasion, Mr Y sat at the back of the school bus with two children and consistently tickled them throughout the 20-minute journey.

On a second occasion when Mr Y accompanied children on the bus, the driver claimed the same thing happened in a manner that was more extreme and louder than the previous incident.

On that occasion, he reported hearing Mr Y say to one of the children: “If that was a dress I would rip it off of you”, and said he felt that he had to do something.

On a third occasion when Mr Y travelled on the bus again, the driver asked him to sit near the door, citing a booklet of transport service regulations that said he must do so.

However, Mr Y then became annoyed and asked whether the driver realised what he was insinuating.

Mr Y demanded to see the booklet, and pointed out that the rules applied to transport staff only.

He argued that as a school employee, he was subject to school rules, but the driver said he would still prefer if Mr Y would abide by transport service rules while on the bus.

Contract in jeopardy

The following morning, the school principal asked to speak to the driver, saying that Mr Y had reported the incident to her the previous evening.

The principal said that it was necessary for escorts, including Mr Y, to sit beside or near the children because they had autism and might need attention.

That afternoon, the driver received a call from his employer asking for details of the incident, and informed him that the principal had requested that he was replaced.

The driver was also told that the company’s contract with the transport service had been jeopardised arising from the incident, and said he was no longer allowed to work on the afternoon school run.

The driver told his employer about the child protection issue that had arisen and his meeting with the school principal, before his employer then said he could continue his job as normal.

Around the same time, a transport inspector came onto the bus and asked the driver to sign a folded piece of paper, possibly a form.

The following day, the driver received another call from his employer saying that the principal had been informed by the previous escort that the driver had hit a pole and a curb three months’ previously.

The driver subsequently spoke to the former escort, who denied speaking to anyone about his driving and confirmed that he was a good driver.

The next day, the bus company rang the driver to say that the principal had been informed that the driver was considering using legal protection open to employees.

No further action

The driver received a further call from his employer to say that the principal wanted him to attend her office and retract what he had said, as it was a mistake.

The driver was asked to apologise for showing Mr Y the transport service booklet and confirm that he would not be taking the matter any further.

If he did not apologise, he was told he would not be allowed to work on the afternoon bus run and that his employer’s contract with the transport service would be gone, along with his job.

The driver felt he had done nothing wrong, but went to the principal’s office with the booklet and apologised for showing Mr Y the paragraph in question.

However, the principal said that that was not the apology she needed, but rather a reassurance that he would not be taking any further action.

The driver felt this was strange, but agreed so that the bus could continue to run as normal.

After the meeting, the driver texted his employer to say that the meeting went well and that he hoped the issued had been resolved.

A few days later, the same transport inspector that had previously given the driver a piece of paper to sign approached him to ask about what had happened when he drove over the pole.

The driver said that this was being used to detract from the real issue, which he felt was the safety of children, and told him about his child protection concerns.

On the next bus run, the driver noticed a white car following him and pulling up on the footpath 100 metres behind him when he was dropping off a child.

‘None of his business’

Later, the driver’s employer asked to meet him in his yard with the bus, which was usually kept at the driver’s house.

The driver’s employer showed him an email from the transport inspector the previous day, saying he had driven the bus too quickly and asking him to find another driver.

The driver’s employer said he had no choice but to let the driver go, adding that he was very sorry and would give him a good reference.

In January 2017, the driver communicated his concerns about the situation and the child protection issue to several organisations in a protected disclosure.

As a consequence, he felt his Bus/HGV licence was worthless without reversal of his dismissal because his reputation had been irrevocably damaged.

He also felt that because the transport service operated the majority of local routes, his options for finding alternative employment were greatly curtailed.

When he subsequently sought a P45 and payslip from his employer, the driver was also told that the school principal had told his employer that what went on in the bus was “none of his business”.

Also giving evidence, the driver’s employer confirmed that he had been operating as a sole trader for 38 years and that he has number of contracts with the transport service to provide bus services.

This included a five-year contract for the school bus run in question, which involved bringing special needs children to and from the school.

He also confirmed that he had employed the driver to operate this route on a salary of €120 per week, and did not take any issue with the sequence of events giving rise to the termination the driver’s employment.

He said that he had no issues with the driver’s work, and had been concerned at the manner in which the transport inspector had reached his findings and demanded that the driver was removed from the bus route in question.

The employer said he had followed up to ask the transport service to reinstate the driver, and that he had no control over the driver’s sacking.

He said his business was dependent upon his contract with the transport service, and had been led to believe that his contracts were in jeopardy if he did not agree to sack the driver.

He also confirmed that the decision to terminate the driver’s employment was not down to the protected disclosure he had made.

However, he accepted that he had not followed correct dismissal procedures, nor given the driver a statement in writing outlining the terms of his employment or paid him a sum of one week’s minimum notice in lieu.

Both the driver and his employer agreed that he did not have the requisite 12 months’ service to bring a complaint of unfair dismissal.

The WRC subsequently told the driver’s employer to pay him €480 in relation to a breach of his terms of employment, and a further €120 under the Minimum Notice & Terms of Employment Act 1973.

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