'agenda'  | 

Protestant who claimed ‘intimidation’ after workmates played ‘anti-Brit’ songs has claim rejected

The worker claims he was intimidated out of a Dundalk factory

Stephen Bourke

A protestant worker who claimed he was “intimidated” out of a Dundalk factory because his colleagues played “anti-British” songs on repeat has had his claim for sectarian harassment rejected.

One song included the lyrics “go home you British bastards”, the Workplace Relations Commission was told.

His former employer told the commission, however, that the worker had an “agenda” and “was never going to accept” the outcome of an internal appeals process.

Glen Weir lodged a complaint under Section 77 of the Employment Equality Act against his former employer, Anord Mardix (Ireland) Ltd of North Link Business Park, Coes Road, Dundalk Co Louth, alleging religious discrimination by way of harassment.

The company, a manufacturer of industrial electrical equipment which was bought out last year by the electronics multinational Flex, denied the claim.

Mr Weir, a production assembly operative at the firm, told an equality hearing in January that during a shift on 1 July 2020 two female colleagues had control of the music being played on the factory floor.

They put on what he called “anti-British songs” on repeat over a period of about two hours, he said.

One song included the lyrics “go home you British bastards”, he said, and while the music was playing, another colleague stopped by his desk and shouted “up the RA”, he claimed.

Mr Weir said he was a British Protestant living in Northern Ireland and the only one working at the Anord Mardix plant in Dundalk, to his knowledge.

He said the music made him feel “uncomfortable” and that he found the alleged “up the RA” comment “particularly threatening”.

As a result, he did not return to work and told the commission he was “intimidated” out of the factory.

Mr Weir said he got a written apology from the person who played the music but that it was a “one-line” note that didn’t have his name on it.

Anord Mardix’s solicitor Maeve Griffin of Fieldfisher LLP submitted that Mr Weir had failed to turn up for work without permission on Friday 3 July and emailed a HR manager the following Wednesday requesting a meeting.

Two days later the manager met Mr Weir to give feedback on issues that included a deputy supervisor position he had applied for, communication with his superiors, the issue of republican songs being played on the factory floor and an alleged inappropriate comment, Ms Griffin said.

She said Mr Weir was informed of his right to make a formal grievance but chose informal mediation.

“In the meantime, the respondent immediately took steps to prevent the alleged discriminatory conduct from recurring by implementing a new policy prohibiting personal music on the assembly and permitting approved radio stations only,” Ms Griffin submitted.

She said Mr Weir indicated he was “happy to move on” after a mediation meeting on 15 July and asked for two weeks’ leave to “sort his head out”.

After the firm confirmed the outcome of the mediation in writing, she said, Mr Weir wrote back on 29 July and invoked the company’s grievance procedure, claiming that his complaint about “sectarian and anti-British music” was not handled to his satisfaction.

Ms Griffin said that Mr Weir was asked to come back to work at a grievance meeting on 5 August but replied: “It depends what the next outcome is. I’ve already been speaking to a solicitor and I know there is definitely a case there so if I’m not happy with the outcome I will go ahead with legal action.”

The worker who played the music told the grievance investigation the music was from a “random playlist” and that she had no malicious intent and apologised, Ms Griffin said.

She said there was an acknowledgment that the company had put measures in place to stop it happening again – but the alleged “up the RA” comment was denied, she said.

Mr Weir appealed the outcome of the grievance process and made an appeal and a complaint to the WRC.

The appeal found the employee’s apology was appropriate and the grievance was handled appropriately by mediation and then by formal investigation, she said.

It also reinstated the annual leave used by Mr Weir during his time off and committed to providing further training to HR staff on complaints of sectarian abuse.

“It was apparent the complainant had [an] agenda and was never going to accept the outcome of the appeal,” Ms Griffin said.

Mr Weir was due to return to work in October that year – but he told the hearing he was nervous about it and sent an email to a HR manager stating that he “could not work for the IRA”.

His evidence was that he went to work, was called to the HR department, and was issued with a suspension letter and dismissed after a disciplinary hearing the following month.

Ms Griffin said after exhausting the internal grievance process, Mr Weir “sent a series of aggressive, intimidating and threatening emails to the respondent”.

“Following a through investigation, disciplinary and appeals process the complainant was dismissed by reason of gross misconduct,” she added.

In a decision published this morning, adjudicating officer Hugh Lonsdale found that Mr Weir had outlined the details of a “single act, which I have to take as non-recurring”.

“I know the complainant was unhappy with how his complaint was taken initially, that the apology was not fulsome and that no action was taken against either of the individuals whose behaviour he complained of,” he wrote.

However, he said he was satisfied that Anord Mardix had shown it took “such steps as are reasonably practicable” in the wake of the incident to prevent the conduct being repeated, as outlined in the Employment Equality Act, and was entitled to rely on that defence.

“I find the complainant was not harassed on the grounds of religion within the meaning of the Employment Equality Acts,” Mr Lonsdale concluded.

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