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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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Truck driver awarded €22k after being dismissed as a result of an oil spillage

The case was brought before the workplace relations commission.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

A DISTRIBUTION COMPANY has been ordered to pay €22,419 to a truck driver who claims he was unfairly dismissed following an oil spill incident. 

At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), the worker claimed he was unfairly dismissed by the company following a defective disciplinary process. 

The worker said he had an exemplary work record through his career and made thousands of deliveries with no road traffic offences over a 35-year period. 

In May 2018, while making a delivery of oil to a new customer, the worker claimed a relatively small oil spillage happened at a customer’s premises in which oil escaped through an overflow valve at the rear of the tank. 

He claimed the customer didn’t make a complaint about the spillage but rather they contacted the company requesting the delivery of two bags of pellets to treat the affected area. 

The worker alleges he was subsequently approached by managment for what transpired as being an investigation meeting. He said he was later asked to attend a meeting with the regional sales manager to discuss what happened and claimed this was, in fact, a disciplinary meeting which ultimately resulted in his dismissal for gross misconduct. 

He claimed his appeal of the decision was refused. 

The worker submitted the following to the WRC: 

  • That the reason for which he was dismissed from his position was unfair and disproportionate.
  • That he was dismissed in breach of the principles of fair procedures and natural justice.
  • That the company failed to properly consider all matters.
  • That the company failed to ensure a fair process in all of the circumstances.

Evidence at hearing

In direct evidence at the hearing, the worker stated that this was only his second visit to the garage at which the spill took place. 

The worker claimed that on the day in question he had noticed a small spill and had turned off the supply to the tank. He said it was only the following day that he became aware that there had been a bigger spill.

He claimed that two garage employees were present when he cut off the fuel supply to the tank but that neither of them said anything to him about the spill. 

He accepted there had been a more serious spill than he realised at the time. 

The worker also accepted that he got a letter dated 4 July inviting him to an investigatory meeting with Mr A. He claimed that when he met with Mr A to discuss what had happened, he didn’t realise the seriousness of the situation and he didn’t think it could lead to dismissal. 

He claimed he didn’t get the notes of this meeting at any stage. 

At the hearing, the worker couldn’t recall if he had received a letter dated 9 July inviting him to a disciplinary hearing. 

He met with Mr A again but he said he didn’t realise that the meeting could lead to his dismissal. He claimed he wasn’t shown the photos of the site after the incident at this meeting. 

The worker said he was contacted about a week later by Mr A who arranged a meeting. At this meeting, the worker said he was handed a letter of dismissal and asked to hand back his phone and keys. 

The worker said he was “dumbfounded and shocked”. 

At the appeal hearing, the worker explained that he had not been distracted doing the delivery and that he had not informed the owner, because he did not know there was a spillage.

The worker stated that he had managed to get a new job two weeks later, with slightly longer hours but no pension.

In response to questions from the company’s representative, the worker stated that the overflow had only gone on for half a second and that he had switched off the overflow when he saw what was happening.

The worker also stated that he had not been aware of any spillages from either the side or the back of the tank; not unlike the garage employee who happened to be standing beside him at the time.

In conclusion, the worker put forward that there had been an indication of bias, a presupposition of guilt, at the time of the investigation, supported by the type of questions asked and the fact that two witnesses, the employees of the garage, had not been asked for their version of events.  

The respondent’s case

It is the company’s case that the complainant was fairly dismissed and that his dismissal was reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.

The company said that by his actions, in breaching company policies, it had lost trust and confidence in the worker to fulfil his duties. 

The company said, in the main, it relied on direct evidence of witnesses to make its case. 

It highlighted the view, expressed in the letter of dismissal, that through his actions, the worker had breached company procedures constituting gross incompetence. 

Mr A, the company’s operations manager, was called to give evidence on behalf of the company at the WRC. 

Mr A claimed he only became aware of the spillage the day after it had happened and that he reckoned the spillage was of about 400 or 500 litres. 

He claimed that he sent a letter inviting the worker to an investigation meeting and that the notes of the meeting he had with the worker were accurate. 

He said his involvement in the matter ended once he had submitted his investigation report.

In cross-examination, Mr A agreed that he had not asked the complainant to review the notes of their meeting. He also agreed that no one sets out to have a spillage and that he didn’t think there was any malice in the worker’s actions. 

Mr A stated that he had not spoken to the two garage employees who were around the shed in which the tank was housed at the time the fuel was being delivered. 

Mr B, the company’s regional sales manager for the area, gave evidence at the hearing. He stated he was the company’s line manager. 

He claimed he received a call from the owner of the garage on 28 June, the day after the spillage. He said the garage manager was annoyed he had not been informed of the spillage. 

Mr B stated he had considered options other than dismissal but due to the seriousness of the matter he decided that dismissal was warranted. 

In cross-examination, Mr B stated it was the company’s human resources department who would have sent the letter of 9 July 2018 to the worker inviting him to the disciplinary meeting. 

When asked if he was surprised that the worker maintained he had never got this letter, Mr B responded by saying yes, he was surprised as the worker had turned up for the hearing. 

Mr B said he had not warned the worker at the outset of the disciplinary hearing that it could lead to his dismissal. 

Decision

In his findings, WRC adjudicator Roger McGrath said he found the decision to dismiss the worker, based on the allegations made against him, unreasonable. 

He said the allegations didn’t justify the imposition of the sanction of dismissal, particularly considering the worker’s long service and his clean disciplinary record. 

“In this regard, I find the sanction of dismissal imposed on the complainant was disproportionate and unwarranted in the circumstances,” McGrath said. 

“In this case, the complainant was diligent in finding work after being dismissed and commenced employment elsewhere only two weeks later,” he said. 

McGrath noted that the worker’s weekly pay in his new job is slightly less per hour than with the company his previously worked work. He also noted that the worker had five days less annual leave per year with his new employer.

Finally, McGrath noted that the new employer does not provide a pension nor is the worker allowed continue in the previous company’s pension scheme.

McGrath determined that the complaint was well founded and the complainant was awarded compensation of €22,419.

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