Updated: Nov 17, 2022
This week we look at a recent Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) case in which a dog warden complained of having been penalised by his employer for reporting alleged animal abuse. Our Adrian Twomey highlights the key points to note in the case of Williamson v Stone & Stone t/a Ashton Dog Pound and Warden Service, ADJ-00033234.
The Complainant, Conor Williamson, appears to have commenced his employment as a dog warden in or around August 2017. He was employed by David and Carol Stone, who traded as Ashton Dog Pound and Warden Service. Mr. Williamson told the WRC that he complained to management at the Pound about the euthanising of two dogs on or about 26 July 2020. When he got no response to his complaints he reported the matter to the Gardaí and there was a subsequent criminal investigation. Mr. Williamson claimed that his reports constituted "protected disclosures" within the meaning of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (often referred to as the "whistleblowing" legislation).
The Complainant gave evidence that he was threatened by another staff member after he made his disclosures and that his van was searched after working hours. On 4 September 2020, he made a complaint against a colleague for alleged threatening and abusive behaviour.
The Complainant gave evidence that he was invited to an investigation meeting on 12 October 2020 in respect of two issues:
his alleged refusal to do on-call working; and
comments that he had allegedly posted on facebook.
He was given a final written warning in December 2020 arising from what he claimed was a sham investigation process. He was offered a severance agreement on 8 February 2021 but refused to accept the offer. He was suspended on 19 March 2021 after six other staff members accused him of intimidation and threatening behaviour.
On 1 June 2021, the Complainant was informed that the Pound had lost its' contract with Dublin City Council. He was also told that his employment would be transferred to the Council as a result with effect from 1 July of that year. Some weeks later, his final written warning was extended for 12 months due to his alleged "misconduct".
Having considered the matter, the Adjudication Officer stated:
"based on the testimony provided by the complainant which I found to be cogent and convincing; I find that the complainant has established that he was penalised for having made a protected disclosure with regard to animal welfare and veterinary pharmaceutical offences at the respondent organisation contrary to the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014. In this regard, I am cognisant of the numerous allegations that the complainant was subjected to by the respondent after making the protected disclosure. Having examined the evidence and heard oral testimony, I am satisfied that the complainant was subjected to a spurious investigation and disciplinary process and a suspension of work which was not warranted which amounts to penalisation under the Act. In relation to the complaint of bullying and harassment by a number of colleagues against the complainant; upon review of said statements, I consider that they are contrived and have the hallmarks of an orchestrated campaign by management to intimidate and bully the complainant. It would appear to me that the statements had been rehearsed and I note that a number of these same staff retracted their statements shortly after making them...
Based on the totality of the evidence heard, I am satisfied that the suspension of the complainant on foot of the allegations by six staff members of bullying and harassment against the complainant was a form of penalisation. I also find that the investigation and disciplinary process was flawed and I find that the complainant faced retaliation for the earlier reporting of animal abuse and veterinary practices to his employer and to the Gardai."
The Adjudication Officer awarded Mr. Williamson €18,000 compensation.
Those who require advice in relation to employment law cases or who need representation before the WRC or Labour Court can contact our Adrian Twomey.