This week we look at a recent Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) case in which an employee was dismissed after attending rehab to treat his cocaine addiction. Our Adrian Twomey highlights the key points to note in the case of Flanagan v Holbury Limited t/a Safe-Stride, ADJ-00032286.
The Complainant, Mr. Paul Flanagan, commenced employment as a general operative in 2010 but appears to have subsequently moved into an administrative/finance role with the Respondent company after completing a diploma in accountancy.
It appears from the evidence given to the WRC that Mr. Flanagan had been using cocaine for some time and that his use increased after the death of his father in 2019. Based on advice received from his GP, the employee commenced treatment at Cuan Mhuire, an addiction treatment centre, on 7 July 2020. Mr. Flanagan gave evidence to the WRC that his employer was supportive and that he was told by their HR consultant that his job would be there for him when he finished his treatment.
It appears from the WRC decision that the company wrote to Mr. Flanagan on 10 July 2020 stating that his job was being assigned to another individual and that he could come back to an alternative position after his 20-week treatment was finished if he gave them two weeks prior notice. The letter, however, was sent to the wrong address and not received by the Complainant.
The Complainant did not complete his course of treatment and discharged himself after eight weeks. He met two of the directors of the company who told him that they had not expected him back until November of that year. He contacted them again in November and was told that there would be no work available until January 2021.
On 3 December 2020, one of the directors, Mr. Liam Sweeney, met with the Complainant and told him that he had effectively resigned from his position when he went into rehab. He was then given a letter dated 2 December indicating that he no longer worked for the company.
Mr. Flanagan filed claims under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 (as amended) and the Employment Equality Act 1998 (as amended). He subsequently withdrew his equality claim and the WRC was only required to consider his unfair dismissal case.
Surprisingly, the company did not call any witnesses to give evidence and the employee's account of events was, therefore, effectively uncontested. In those circumstances, the Adjudication Officer stated that she was:
"... fully satisfied that the Complainant did not resign his position. He was dismissed by the Respondent in a very under handed way."
She awarded Mr. Flanagan €20,000.
It is rarely wise for an employer to permit an employee's evidence to go uncontested. Doing so in this case compounded earlier apparent errors in handling the matter and certainly appears to have contributed to the outcome of the case.
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.