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FAI official who refereed matches around the country while on sick leave has unfair dismissal claim refused

The man later said he had taken six weeks’ sick leave in order to be with his wife and daughter who were suffering from severe depression.

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A MAN WHO was found to have travelled around the country in order to officiate at FAI soccer matches has had his claim for unfair dismissal refused.

The Workplace Relations Commission heard how the man had worked for his employer, an air filtration provider in a Leinster county, for 17 years.

In March 2017, his employment was terminated due to gross misconduct giving rise to a fundamental breach of trust.

In late January 2017, the worker contacted his employer saying that he was sick. He produced a certificate saying he was sick through to 26 January, and thereafter produced a series of further certificates saying the same thing, before returning to his employment on 3 March. He had been missing from his place of employment for six weeks at that stage.

Towards the end of the man’s absence, the employer became aware that the man had been travelling around the country to officiate as a linesman/referee at senior Premier League matches.

The employer was previously aware that the man was heavily involved in the FAI. However, the employer explained that doing so while on sick leave did not tally with the notion that the man was ‘chronically ill’.

In reviewing recent fixtures, the employer noted the man had officiated at least three matches since going on sick leave, one of which involved him travelling to Northern Ireland.

Upon returning to work, the man was informed that his employment was being terminated.

Sick leave

The man then revealed that he had not in fact been sick at the time of his absence, but had taken such leave in order to care for his wife and daughter who had been suffering from severe depression.

He said he had not trusted his employer to keep such personal details confidential, hence the duplicity.

He claimed before the Workplace Relations Commission that his employer had been wrong not to take such mitigating circumstances into account when dealing with him.

While deciding officer Penelope McGrath considered that the man had done the right thing in taking time off, she also noted that the company had a system of unpaid compassionate leave in place for such circumstances, which he had not taken advantage of.

Noting also that a medical practice had been impacted by the employee’s actions, she said:

I categorically cannot accept that there is any justification for extracting remuneration from an employer in the manner that has been done.

“Not every workplace provides for a sick leave payment scheme and it seems unfair to the complainant’s colleagues that he has seen fit to abuse the scheme in the manner that he has.”

It was wrong of the complainant to dupe his employer in the way that he did.

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She found that the man had wrongly extracted six weeks’ pay from his employer, and accepted that a fundamental breach of trust had occurred. While some mitigating circumstances existed, she said, none of them was “sufficient to render this termination unfair”.

Accordingly, she dismissed the man’s claim for unfair dismissal.

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