'disruptive' | 

Gardener who gave her boss middle finger and told him to 'f*** off' awarded €6,300

The owner said prior to this, the manager 'regularly used foul and abusive language when dealing with the owners in front of staff'

Stephen Bourke

A horticulturalist who was fired for giving her boss the middle finger and telling him to “f*** off” has been awarded €6,300 in compensation for unfair dismissal.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has upheld a complaint by the manager of a garden centre in the west of the country, ruling she was not afforded fair procedures when she was dismissed by the owner.

Both parties agreed the complainant had told the owner “f**k you” or “f**k off” and “put up the middle finger” to the owner on June 19, 2020.

The commission heard that the manager had apologised three hours later – but was handed a letter advising her she would be the subject of an investigation.

The owner said prior to this, the manager “regularly used foul and abusive language when dealing with the owners in front of staff” and had “started making derogatory remarks about the owners to staff and customers”.

This included asking another manager if he was “off to meet his girlfriend” in front of other people when he was leaving the office, the owner said.

He found the complainant “extremely disruptive and critical” at a meeting on June 2, he said.

The manager failed to co-operate with organisational changes he wanted to bring in and he warned her that her “behaviour and attitude needed to change” at a meeting on the June 11, the owner said.

He said the middle finger incident happened just over a week later in front of other staff, “loud enough so that it was heard in the shop by others”. This was denied by the complainant.

She was suspended with pay on July 2 and ultimately dismissed on the July 17 following a disciplinary process, the hearing was told.

The complainant appealed this decision, but no decision was made on it.

She said her relationship with the owner was “very informal” and “friendly” and that they would “regularly Whatsapp each other informally using inappropriate language”.

The complainant said the middle finger incident arose because she was “upset and felt under a lot of pressure” when she met with the owner to discuss a customer voucher scheme.

The manager said she was “annoyed that she was not given accurate information” about an offer which appeared on the garden centre’s social media which differed from what she had been advising customers on.

She said three hours after the incident, as she was finishing up for the day, she went looking for the owner and apologised to him.

The owner told her to “keep her apology” and handed her a letter advising her of an investigation. She felt this was “prepared” because it was given to her within three hours of the incident at hand.

The complainant argued the owner treated her unfairly during the investigation and disciplinary process and that a third-party investigator was not fully independent.

In a decision published this morning, adjudicating officer Louise Boyle wrote that the investigation and disciplinary process followed by the garden centre owner was “deficient in fairness and objectivity”.

“I find it extraordinary that [the owner], who was the subject of the inappropriate language, saw it fair and appropriate to involve himself in all aspects of the investigation process, the disciplinary process and the appeal process,” Ms Boyle wrote.

“It would appear that decisions were predetermined and that the respondent was not interested in the complainant’s responses or questions.”

She ruled the sanction of dismissal was “not proportionate” and the complaint was well founded – but that the manager had been 10pc responsible for her own dismissal.

Ms Boyle therefore adjusted the compensation award accordingly and ordered the employer pay €6,300 for unfair dismissal.

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