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'distress' Paddy Power worker who claimed she was told by boss to take bets on credit loses unfair dismissal case

Ms Phillips gave evidence of bets being taken on credit in “several instances" during her six-year career at the bookmakers

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The front of a Paddy Power betting shop

The front of a Paddy Power betting shop

The front of a Paddy Power betting shop

A deputy manager at a Paddy Power shop who said she was instructed by her boss to take bets on credit has lost her claim for unfair dismissal after being sacked for it.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ruled the complainant should have reported the practice at her branch using the company’s whistleblower process but instead went along with it “in an act of misplaced loyalty”.

Emma Phillips had complained against Flutter Entertainment PLC under the Unfair Dismissals Act that the termination of her employment on November 25, 2020, was a disproportionate sanction for the misconduct, which she admitted.

Ms Phillips gave evidence of bets being taken on credit in “several instances" during her six-year career at the bookmakers, during which time she had been promoted from retail assistant to deputy shop manager.

She said it might happen when a customer needed to go to take money from an ATM or had forgotten to bring means of payment.

At the branch where she worked, she said, the manager allowed one particular individual to place bets by phone and pay later on – and instructed another member of staff to take bets from this customer in the same way.

When neither the manager nor the shop assistant who had been given this instruction were in the shop, Ms Phillips said she was “expected” to take the bets in the same manner.

She said she would take the bet, write “written for customer” on the docket and attach the customer’s name.

This meant falsifying the cash balance on the till and rectifying it later, she said.

Ms Phillips said she felt “deeply uncomfortable with these actions” and said she was doing so “only on the instruction of her manager” and that she was in an “extremely difficult position”.

She told the hearing that the issue of bets being phoned in was discussed in her presence between a district manager and her shop manager.

“The district manager stated that this is against policy, but no further action was taken,” she said.

In evidence to the hearing, the district manager said he “could not recall the specific conversation”.

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He said if he was informed of such activity, he would “immediately state that it is against company policy and that it should stop immediately”.

Ibec employer relations executive Niamh Ní Cheallaigh, who appeared for Flutter Entertainment, said Ms Phillips was called in to an investigation meeting over an alleged breach of its security policies and procedures.

She said Ms Phillips acknowledged reading and signing the company’s policy documents on the subject the day after she was first hired in 2015, along with a memo on personal betting and IOUs which stated: “You cannot give credit to a customer. All customers must pay for all bets in advance.”

It was during the investigation meeting that Ms Phillips disclosed instances of credit betting being allowed at her shop and the falsification of cash shortages, Ms Ní Cheallaigh submitted.

She said this disclosure meant Ms Phillips “accepted as truth” its allegations.

The disciplinary process concluded that she had “knowingly breached” the company’s credit and cash policies and so “the bond of trust and confidence had been broken”, Ms Ní Cheallaigh said and Ms Phillips was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct on November 25, 2020.

Ms Phillips began an appeal but withdrew it on December 9, 2020, the employer relations executive said.

Ms Ní Cheallaigh said Flutter Entertainment had “good grounds” for its ban on credit betting as it could potentially lead to “insurmountable debt” being incurred by customers and facilitate gambling problems.

She argued the company respected Ms Phillips’s contractual and natural rights throughout the disciplinary process and that the sanction of dismissal was reasonable. Ms Ní Cheallaigh submitted that Ms Phillips’s failure to progress her appeal should be “fatal to the present complaint”.

In his decision, adjudicating officer Brian Dolan noted Paddy Power’s rules on credit betting and cash handling are “understandably strict”.

“This rule is in place for extremely good reasons. Store credit could easily serve to enable poor gambling practices and could potential(ly) exacerbate gambling addictions. Such behaviour also inevitably leads to the falsification of cash receipts as the employee has credited the system with funds that have not yet been provided,” he wrote.

He noted that Ms Phillips had received training on such practices and six-month refresher courses throughout her employment, and said it was reasonable that Paddy Power would take a strict view on a breach of the policy.

“The complainant, to her credit, at all times accepted that she knowingly and deliberately breached the store credit and cash handling procedures,” Mr Dolan wrote.

“I do accept that the complainant was placed in an unenviable and difficult position,” Mr Dolan wrote. “She was asked by a manager to take a course of action that she was deeply uncomfortable with and caused her distress. (She) had to make a choice between taking her manager’s instruction or reporting the matter through the correct channels,” he wrote.

“Unfortunately, the complainant made the incorrect decision and committed misconduct that she knew to be against company policy and potentially harmful to the business and its customers. From the respondent’s point of view, they are entitled, if not obliged, to strictly enforce their rules and procedures regarding gambling behaviour,” Mr Dolan wrote.

He noted Ms Phillips’s argument that the district manager should have “done more to prevent the misconduct happening” but said he could not find in her favour on it.

“In the absence of the complainant making a complaint about the actual persons involved in the misconduct through the relevant channels, it is difficult to envision what the district manager was to do about the situation,” he wrote.

Ms Phillips’s dismissal “could potentially be viewed as a harsh outcome”, he wrote, but he ruled it “fell within the band of reasonable responses”.

He ruled Ms Phillips was not unfairly dismissed.

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