Workplace Procedures, impartiality, balance and fairness
The area of fairness in the workplace is a broad one. We have seen many examples in the Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court decisions, of cases which have been lost mainly because the employer did not follow the rules of natural justice. Impartiality, balance and fairness are at the core of natural justice when it comes to carrying out disciplinary or any procedures in the workplace.
The case of Frizelle v New Ross Credit Union Ltd  IEHC 137 sets out very useful guidelines for the conduct of an investigation into a workplace complaint. In this case an allegation of misconduct.
- there is a bona fide complaint unrelated to ulterior motive or agenda;
- the complaint was presented in a clear factual manner without implicitly recommending or accepting a given conclusion;
- the alleged wrong-doer was interviewed and a record taken of his answer to the complaint;
- the complaint and the answer to that complaint was presented to the adjudicator at the same time and without comment or recommendation;
- the adjudicator assessed the facts and explanations presented and decided the matter on the balance of probabilities;
- a decision to dismiss took account of whether dismissal would be a disproportionate response relative both to the nature of the complaint and to the effect dismissal will have on the wrongdoer. (O’ Reilly)
A more recent case UDD 1735 Pottle Pig Farm and Valery Panasov restates the importance of following the correct procedures when dismissing an employee. In that case the employer instantly dismissed the worker for what they believed was gross misconduct.See article on gross misconduct here
They failed to follow fair procedures when coming to that decision and the dismissal was therefore held to be unfair.
The main thread running through all of these cases is that there must be balance in obtaining and assessing the evidence leading to a possible dismissal.
The whole area of disciplinary procedures and dismissal for gross misconduct is very complex and needs to be handled in a balanced and fair manner.
The employee must be allowed a fair opportunity to present their case to an impartial person conducting the investigation. They must be made fully aware of the allegations being made and their consequences.
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