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Woman, sacked for refusing to allow customer return Christmas lights, awarded €21,000

The woman had also threatened to call the gardaí on the customer, who had no receipt for their purchase.

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A SHOP ASSISTANT, who refused to engage with a customer returning some Christmas lights and who threatened to call the gardaí, has been awarded €20,000 at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) after losing her job.

The woman in question had been working for the retail store in question for nearly three years at the time of the incident in November 2017.

The customer who walked into the shop on that date had no receipt or proof of purchase for the Christmas lights which they claimed were faulty. When it was explained to the customer that such proof was a shop requirement, the customer allegedly subjected the woman to a stream of abuse.

In the wake of the confrontation, the customer complained to the shop, which initiated an investigation, the result of which saw the woman lose her job.

She claimed that the shop’s disciplinary process was manifestly unfair, in that she wasn’t made aware that dismissal was an option beforehand. She claimed that her dismissal was “completely disproportionate and unreasonable”.

The shop meanwhile said that it is “dependant on good customer relationships”.

It said that the woman’s behaviour had been totally inappropriate, and that calling a colleague over to act as a witness was an “error of judgement”. It contended that the woman’s suggestion that she would “have to call the guards” was an example of poor customer relations.

It said that throughout the disciplinary process, which it maintained was “comprehensive and completely professional”, it informed the woman that her actions constituted gross misconduct, but that nevertheless she showed no “remorse or contrition”, and remained “unapologetic and defensive”.

Lack of remorse

It further added that the woman’s lack of remorse had made it fearful that there might be a repeat of the incident in question.

The woman’s dismissal was formalised on 21 December 2017. She appealed the decision, but unsuccessfully.

In considering the ruling, WRC adjudication officer Michael McEntee said he could not understand how a confrontation over Christmas lights, albeit one that became heated, could “fit this classification” of gross misconduct.

“Dismissal from employment is a very major, the ultimate, sanction. It was not clear to me why a lesser section could not have been utilised,” he said.

Overall in this case it appeared that there were a number of procedural flaws and issues of natural justice in the investigative and disciplinary hearings. 

He said that, while the woman appeared to have “been brusque and somewhat dismissive” of the investigation into the incident, and that her lack of contrition were “ultimate factors in her dismissal”, those reasons should not have been issues under natural justice.

Accordingly, he said that he believed an unfair dismissal had taken place.

He said that reinstatement would not be appropriate given the relationship between the parties had irretrievably broken down, and that redress of €20,800, or one year’s salary, would be the appropriate action.

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