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Unfair dismissal Bus driver fired after leaving coach to cut away nuisance tree branches awarded €16k

The WRC said it was “extraordinary” how the dismissal of someone who was protecting his employer’s property from damage could be justified

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A bus driver who was fired after leaving his bus and passengers unattended while he cut branches of a tree which were obstructing a driveway has been awarded €15,800 in compensation.

The Workplace Relations Commission ruled that Boyce Coach Travel, a coach firm based in Ramelton, Co Donegal, had unfairly dismissed the driver, Simon Logue as a result of the incident.

The WRC said it was “extraordinary” how the dismissal of someone who was protecting his employer’s property from damage could be justified.

It heard that the company transported physically challenged adults to and from day services in Donegal under contract for a Local Link bus service, SITT.

Mr Logue told the WRC that getting in and out of the entrance to a new client’s house in August 2019 was proving very difficult because of an overgrown tree.

The driver alerted the company to the problem and was advised to get permission from the owner to cut the tree.

Mr Logue said he subsequently obtained permission from the landowner who was the mother of the service user to cut back some branches.

Later that day, the driver said he parked the bus and removed the key from the ignition before cutting down parts of the tree.

Mr Logue said he was no further than 10 feet from the bus and had full view of the two passengers, who were accompanied by a travel escort, while he was cutting branches.

It subsequently emerged that the family of the service user had made a complaint to the HSE and had requested that their son should be provided with a dedicated taxi by SITT.

After submitting a report about the incident, Mr Logue said he was verbally dismissed by the company’s owner, Peter Boyce, on November 20, 2019.

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Mr Logue said he was shown a letter from SITT which accused him of interfering with property without permission.

The WRC heard that SITT had asked Boyce Coach Travel to remove the driver from the run without delay.

Mr Logue said he asked his employer to explain to SITT that he had done nothing wrong but that Mr Boyce claimed his hands were tied and would have to let him go as he had no alternative work.

The driver said he again raised his concerns that the company had carried out no investigation into the complaint after completing his final run on November 22, 2019.

Boyce Coach Travel claimed SITT had received a complaint that the driver and the travel escort had left a service user unattended on the bus alone for 10 minutes.

Upholding Mr Logue’s claim for unfair dismissal, the WRC said it was clear that he had not been notified in writing about a disciplinary process and not been given any opportunity to explain his case.

The WRC said it was noteworthy that the company had made no effort to speak to the woman who had given him permission to cut the branches.

WRC adjudicator, Shay Henry, said it was also difficult to understand how SITT considered the absence of the travel escort from the bus only warranted a three-day suspension but it sought the permanent removal of the bus driver.

Mr Henry said he accepted that Mr Logue had obtained permission to cut the tree as his evidence was “clear, consistent and persuasive.”

The WRC said it was also clear that Mr Logue was protecting the company’s property by his actions.

Awarding the driver €15,600 – the equivalent of one year’s salary –the WRC said it believed Mr Logue had been acting out of health and safety considerations in removing obstacles interfering with the bus which should not have given rise to any disciplinary issue.

It claimed the decision to dismiss him was disproportionate.

Mr Logue was also awarded €200 over the company’s failure to provide him with a written contract of employment.

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