Waste firm, Panda has been ordered to pay €40,000 compensation to a driver unfairly dismissed after he became involved in a row with his line manager.
At the Labour Court, chairman, Kevin Foley ordered the payout to Ben Madichie after concluding that the procedure engaged by Starrus Eco Holdings Limited, trading as Panda, to address the events of November 26th 2019 "lacked the basic tenets of natural justice or fair procedures".
Mr Madichie initially brought unfair dismissal proceedings against Panda at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) where it found that Mr Madichie was unfairly dismissed and ordered Panda to pay him €29,960 in compensation.
Panda - which provides waste services to 360,000 homes and businesses - appealed the ruling to the Labour Court.
Now that move has backfired with the Labour Court finding that Mr Madichie was unfairly dismissed and increasing the award by 33% to €40,000 along with Panda's additional legal costs involved.
In relation to the incident that gave rise to Mr Madichie's dismissal for gross misconduct, he told the Labour Court that on November 26th 2019 he engaged with Line Manager, Tommy McLoughlin in relation to faulty wipers on his truck.
Mr Madichie said that as he did so, he touched Mr McLoughlin on his hand and Mr McLoughlin became upset.
In his own evidence, Mr McLoughlin told the court that he did 'lose the rag’ after Mr Madichie pulled him back and an exchange of ‘verbals’ took place.
Mr McLoughlin told the court that similar to Mr Madichie he had used strong language in the course of their exchange and that no process was initiated or took place to address the alleged verbal abuse by him of Mr Madichie.
Following a disciplinary process, the firm dismissed Mr Madichie in February 2020 and he was told by letter that allegations that he had assaulted Mr McLoughlin and verbally abused him were proven.
At the Labour Court, it was submitted on Mr Madichie’s behalf that he did not assault Mr McLoughlin and neither did he grab his jacket.
It was further submitted that Mr Madichie merely touched the sleeve of his Line Manager and the contact between Mr Madichie and Mr McLoughlin on the day fell far short of any definition or understanding of assault.
In the court’s findings, Mr Foley found that no evidence or submission was offered by Panda as to how the decision makers decided that the particular physical interaction between Mr Madichie and Mr McLoughlin amounted to an assault which could be regarded as of such significance to be ‘gross misconduct’.
Finding that Panda’s procedures lacked the basic tenets of natural justice, Mr Foley said that in particular, this was the failure to advise Mr Madichie explicitly of the risk to his employment; the articulation of conclusions by the first decision maker during the hearing and Mr Madichie’s evidence that the first decision maker shouted at him during the hearing all combine to undermine the procedure engaged by Panda.
Mr Foley also found that the failure of Panda to proffer evidence from either the first decision maker or the decision maker on appeal has, in the view of the court, resulted in Panda being unable to discharge the burden of establishing that the decision to dismiss Mr Madichie was proportionate to the alleged offence or that either decision maker considered any penalty other than dismissal.
Mr Madichie was employed with Panda since 2017 and found alternative employment in November 2021.