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'Undue pressure' Pamela Scott owner ordered to pay graphic designer €1,200 after sock theft allegation

WRC rules man was placed ‘under undue pressure’ when bosses said gardaí would be called if he did not resign immediately

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The Workplace Relations Commission. Photo: Stock image

The Workplace Relations Commission. Photo: Stock image

The Workplace Relations Commission. Photo: Stock image

A graphic designer who was accused of theft and claimed he was told he would be taken out of his workplace by gardaí if he did not sign a letter of resignation on the spot has been awarded €1,200 for constructive dismissal.

Raymond O’Neill took a damaged sock set with the intention of returning it.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has upheld a complaint under the Unfair Dismissals Act by Raymond O’Neill against his former employer, Flairline Fashion Ltd, trading as Pamela Scott.

Mr O’Neill told an adjudication hearing last month that on November 20, 2020, he told the company he was leaving and began working out four weeks’ notice.

He said he had objected to the company’s decision not to pay him three bonus payments linked to online sales and that he was told on December 10 that he would get them.

At lunchtime on Monday, December 14, Mr O Neill said he “took a damaged sock set with the intention of taking it home to see if it was a suitable Christmas present” and was seen doing so by Scott Barron, a director of the company.

Mr O’Neill said it was “not an unusual practice for him” to take stock home and return it later, and it was known to his employer.

At 3pm that day he was called into a meeting with the managing director, Richard Barron, who told him the bonus payments would be “spread over a few months”.

Then as Mr O’Neill left for home at 6pm, he was called back to the boardroom to meet the two directors again.

At this second meeting, he was “accused of stealing the sock set as well as over 50 items of company property”, Mr O’Neill said, adding that “a threat was also made to contact his new employer to damage his reputation”.

He said he was in a state of “distress and shock” because of the of the “threatening behaviour” of Richard and Scott Barron and said he was “coerced” into writing a letter stating that he took an item without permission.

Mr O’Neill said he only agreed to sign the letter because the directors “repeatedly threatened to call the gardaí, stating that he would be arrested in front of all staff present”.

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The following day he was invited to another meeting with the two men, who told him to write a note “resigning from his employment and forgoing all payment entitlements in full or the gardaí would escort him out of the building in front of all staff”, he told the commission.

Mr O’Neill said he would have preferred to work out his notice period until 23 December 2020 but felt “extreme stress” because of the Barrons’ threat to call the gardaí.

He signed the note and was escorted out of the building without collecting his personal belongings.

Solicitor Paul Gough, of Beauchamps, for Flairline Fashions, said the company disputed the suggestion that Scott Barron knew Mr O’Neill was taking the sock set.

Mr Barron’s account of the matter was that when he went into the office, Mr O’Neill “visibly jumped”.

“It was clear to Mr Barron that he had just placed something in his bag. Mr Barron was suspicious but did not say anything to the complainant and entered into a conversation with him to give him an opportunity to explain what had just happened” Mr Gough said.

“At no point did [Mr O’Neill] mention that he had taken any goods, never mind ask permission,” Mr Gough said.

The company’s position was that staff did “sometimes” take stock home, but only after asking one of the directors, Mr Gough added.

He said at the meeting later that day, Mr O’Neill admitted he “took a chance” and put the sock set in his bag – and went on to admit ordering 30 items into the store in recent years which he took home for his girlfriend to consider.

“He said that on each occasion that she had decided that she did not like the item so he returned it,” Mr Gough said.

Mr O’Neill also admitted taking a coat worth €159.99 and apologised, asking whether there was any way he could “redeem himself” and signing a note admitting to taking the items, Mr Gough submitted.

The company’s position was that Mr O’Neill had “admitted to stealing two items” and that “all trust and confidence had been broken”, Mr Gough said.

He added that the company “advised” him the matter would go no further if he quit but that a formal disciplinary process could “possibly involve the gardaí."

Mr O’Neill argued that the company failed to adhere to its own employee handbook and said he ought to have been provided with a physical copy at the meetings when “multiple allegations of a serious nature” were being directed at him.

Adjudicating officer Breffni O’Neill did not make any finding of fact on the allegations of theft against the complainant in a decision published this morning.

But he said Raymond O’Neill had been placed under “undue pressure” when he was told he should resign to avoid a report being made to gardaí about the matter – and that “crucially”, the complainant was not represented at the meeting nor given time to consider his decision.

He ruled Mr O’Neill was unfairly dismissed and awarded him eight days’ pay in compensation for the loss of his notice period, some €1,233.60.

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