Lidl pays over €2.4k after dismissing store assistant for turning off power to freezer

The ex-employee was awarded €2,492, which is equal to six weeks’ salary.

THE WORKPLACE RELATIONS Commission (WRC) ordered Lidl to compensate a store assistant who was dismissed for switching off power to a food freezer unit for a number of minutes.

WRC adjudicator, Brian Dolan deemed the dismissal unfair and ordered Lidl Ireland GMBH pay compensation of €2,492 to Robert Januszewski.

Januszewski was employed by Lidl Ireland for almost 10 years and had no open disciplinary sanctions on file before the freezer incident.

In his findings, Dolan found that no reasonable employer would have dismissed Januszewski in such circumstances.

The adjudicator stated that on review of the nature of the misconduct and Januszewski’s long service, it is clear that a lesser sanction, a final written warning, would have served the purpose of preventing the misconduct from re-occurring.

Contesting Januszewski’s unfair dismissal claim, Lidl argued that Januszewski broke the “cold chain” of frozen foods when switching off power to the freezer and potentially endangered Lidl’s customers.

At hearing, Lidl argued that the dismissal of Januszewski was both procedurally and substantially fair.

Dolan stated that it is apparent that Januszewski “acted without malice” in his actions on 27 February 2020.

On the date in question, Januszewski stated that he switched off the power to a freezer unit for a few minutes while he was working in it.

He stated that on this occasion he was recovering from a cold and did not want to become sick again.

Januszewski further stated that the large, industrial unit was turned off for a few minutes only, and that there was absolutely no prospect of the stock becoming defrosted.

He contended that the pallets of food sometimes spend considerably more time out of the freezer unit whilst being stocked without any issue being raised by Lidl.

Januszewski also stated that at all times he accepted his actions and did not seek to mislead his employer.

Januszewski felt that the sanction of dismissal was wholly inappropriate in circumstances whereby no damage was caused to any stock at any stage, that this was the first incident of this nature and that he had a long unblemished tenure with Lidl.

Notwithstanding this, Dolan stated that Lidl as a wholesale food retailer has an enormous duty of care to the general public.

Dolan stated that the safe handling of frozen produce and the potential implications of any breach could have devastating consequences for LiDl and its customers and Lidl is entitled to view any breach of health and safety in this area extremely seriously.

Lidl argued that switching off the freezer constituted gross misconduct as it represented a fundamental breach of trust between the parties and that the dismissal was a proportionate outcome and was well within the range of reasonable responses available to Lidl.