A lecturer at the Southern Regional College (SRC) was awarded £16,500 in compensation and reinstated in her role after an industrial tribunal found she was unfairly dismissed.
The Beauty Therapist was sacked by the College for “gross misconduct” in November 2016 following long and drawn out disciplinary proceedings.
The SRC claimed she had seriously breached cash handling procedures; failed to account for money paid to the College; and retained for personal use money paid by a third party to the College for services provided by the College, such action amounting to fraud.
In March 2015, the woman was asked to provide beauty services, on behalf of the SRC at a ‘Pamper Me Perfect’ promotional event at the High Street Mall in Portadown.
The claimant attended this event with students from the college and was later invited by the promoter to attend further ‘Pamper Me Perfect’ events – because of her performance – for which she received cash.
In August 2015, the College became aware of the claimant’s involvement in these events and that she had been paid £600 for the supply of her services and products.
Following an investigation by the College, the claimant confirmed that she had attended the events and had received cash.
She claimed that she had lodged £200 with the College reception and placed £100 into petty cash, which she then used to purchase salon products for the SRC.
She gave each of the eight students who accompanied her to the events, £30 each and claimed that she had kept the remainder for petrol and food expenses.
The College, however, contended the claimant was not able to explain reasonably where the remainder of the money had gone or vouch for the money she could explain.
The claimant confirmed that she did not report the payment to anyone at the College and that she was working under the presumption that as it was her own time, it was up to her to distribute the money as she wished.
However, the College placed the claimant on precautionary suspension on January 12, 2016 before she was dismissed in November of the same.
At the time, a local Armagh councillor expressed concerns about the postponement and subsequent delay of the disciplinary hearing, expressing his shock, while seeking an explanation given the negative effect on the claimant’s health.
The tribunal heard how the woman was greatly affected by her partner’s death, a divorce, her daughter’s illness and her own cancer scare, all in the space of a few years.
SRC responded to the councillor in a letter which stated that the “case is the subject of an internal disciplinary process and will be addressed in accordance with the college’s disciplinary policy. I am sure you will recognise the need for due process to be followed and must therefore respectfully decline your request for a meeting.”
The Tribunal was satisfied that the College had shown a genuine reason for the Claimant’s dismissal related to her conduct.
However, they held, by way of a majority decision, that College had failed to conduct a reasonable investigation into the alleged misconduct. As such, they found that she had been unfairly dismissed.
The Tribunal was critical of the investigation carried out, finding that it did not take all reasonable steps to inform itself of the relevant facts prior to reaching its decision to dismiss.
In particular, the failure of the College to consider the effect of the claimant’s medical conditions on her behaviour and the absence of further enquiry into her ill-health, despite mentions of same in medical reports, was detrimental to the investigation.
It was held that the claimant’s lengthy suspension, without review, was contrary to the College’s own procedures and Labour Relations Agency Code of Practice.
Further, the Tribunal criticised the College’s disciplinary and appeal panel for considering the claimant’s disciplinary record, given that the incident referenced on her record was dealt with ‘informally’ by means of counselling.
TheCollege was also subject to criticism for dismissing the claimant’s allegation of bias against a panel member, and determined that allowing the individual to remain involved was prejudicial to the disciplinary process as a whole.
The Tribunal has ordered the claimant be reinstated no later than February 19 and awarded £16,419.50 in damages.