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Man loses claim for unfair dismissal after sacking for sexual assault of colleague at Christmas party is upheld

The case was recently heard by the Workplace Relations Commission.

Image: Shutterstock/IgorAleks

AN IRISH-BASED beverage company fired a male employee over an allegation that he sexually assaulted a female colleague at a hotel at a Christmas party event.

The man attempted to sue his employer at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), whose adjudication officer Emile Daly dismissed his claim after finding that the decision was reasonable and proportionate.

The incident leading to his dismissal followed a staff Christmas party in December 2018, when the man’s female work colleague alleged that she was sexually assaulted in a hotel room after the event.

The man was suspended pending an investigation into the matter, and the beverage company hired an independent investigator to carry out an investigation.

The investigator’s findings found that based on the balance of probabilities, the man had sexually assaulted his female work colleague.

The man was subsequently fired for gross misconduct on 5 May, 2019.

In her findings, Daly agreed that the findings reached by the independent investigator were well-founded.

She also explained that she was satisfied that the decision to dismiss the man was within a band of reasonable sanctions that could have been applied by the employer.

“I do not accept that the sanction of dismissal was disproportionate to the findings of the investigator,” she said.

“A sexual assault is a serious finding and one that is capable of being considered as an act of gross misconduct.”

The man claimed at the WRC that the investigator’s findings were flawed, claiming they failed to take account of the possibility that the encounter was consensual and that witnesses who could have discredited his female colleague’s testimony had not been interviewed.

The man also claimed that the dismissal was unfair because the alleged event took place in a private hotel room which was not within the workplace.

The beverage firm told the WRC that the man did not participate in the investigation in any material way and when asked questions by the investigator, he replied that under legal advice, he would not answer any questions.

In her findings, Daly found that the alleged assault took place within the employment of the dismissed man.

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She reasoned that the Christmas party had been organised and hosted by the man’s employer at a venue chosen by the company.

“The parties would not have been at the venue but for the Christmas party,” she concluded.

Daly also stated that the man’s failure to provide his version of events left the investigator with no option other than to make the findings that she did.

“It may be that he was advised against the risk of self-incrimination, lest a criminal investigation be commenced at a later date, this remains unknown,” she said.

“However, the reason behind the advice is, in many respects, immaterial.”

About the author:

Gordon Deegan

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