Did you ever read Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens?
Dickens introduced a great number of unforgettable characters to the world in this novel about the exploitation of orphan children by ‘the Jew’, Fagin to engage in criminality and picking pockets on the streets of London in the 1830s.
In Oliver Twist you had Oliver Twist himself (“please sir, can I have some more?”), John (aka Jack) Dawkins (‘the Artful Dodger’), Nancy, the good hearted lover/prostitute of the evil Bill Sikes, and a lad called Charlie Bates.
Charlie Bates spent a lot of his time on the floor laughing uproariously at the antics of the gang and exclaiming “What a game!” in reference to the criminality and picking of pockets in which the orphaned children were forced to engage.
I thought of Charlie Bates and his stock phrase “what a game!” when I read of a recent decision of the WRC in a case involving a male manager of a store in a restaurant chain who admitted to sexually harassing female staff under his management.
To cut to the chase he offered accomodation to female staff in return for sex.
The employer, on discovering this and after engaging the services of a HR person to carry out an investigation, summarily dismissed him for gross misconduct on the grounds of repeated sexual harassment in the workplace.
The dismissed manager brought a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) for unfair dismissal.
And guess what?
He won on the grounds of the absence of fair procedures (“procedures hopelessly flawed”), the WRC Adjudicator having found that his conduct amounted to sexual harassment and the dismissal was substantially fair.
He was awarded €6,500.
As Charlie Bates might have said, “What a game!”
Lack of fair procedures
The grounds for finding that the procedures were “hopelessly flawed” included
- The company ignored the employee’s direct evidence and relied on hearsay evidence
- The employer failed to provide witness statements to the manager
- The employer failed to advise him of the seriousness of the situation and the potential for dismissal
- The employer failed to allow the manager defend himself or have representation
- The employer failed to allow him to cross examine his accusers or challenge witness statements
- The employer did not give him the specifics of the sexual harassment allegations against him.
However, it is reported that the company engaged the services of an external HR advisor to carry out an investigation and the manager “confirmed to the investigator that he offered accommodation to employees in order to have sex with them”.
Moreover, the manager had been involved in a relationship with one of the employees (who broke it off when she discovered he was married) and the report found he “was accused of unwelcome advances and offers of going to the cinema, restaurants or visits to the park. There were accusations of non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature including leering and making sexually suggestive gestures”.
Lessons to be learned
It’s difficult to understand, having read the facts and report of this case, what circumstances will give rise to a safe summary dismissal from an employer’s perspective. Therefore the safest bet appears to be to always afford fair procedures and natural justice no matter what the circumstances.
At the very least ensure the allegations are put to the employee in sufficient details and he has a chance to explain his version of events and side of the story.
This way might ensure you are not indulging in a Charlie Bates’ reaction of rolling around on the floor saying “What a game!” after reading about, or being involved in, an unfair dismissal.