A former Montessori teacher was sacked after she allegedly slapped a three-year-old child at the crèche where she worked. However, the Employment Appeals Tribunal awarded her nearly €27,000 as compensation for the crèche dismissing her without notice and without conducting a proper investigation into the alleged incidence.

The mother of the child made a complaint to the crèche that the teacher had slapped her child on the hand. The crèche dismissed the teacher within a few hours of the complaint as it considered that such behaviour constituted gross misconduct. The crèche did not interview any witnesses about the incident nor did it interview the teacher prior to her dismissal.

The crèche contended that the rights of the child were paramount and, accordingly, it was entitled to summarily dismiss the teacher. However, the teacher denied the allegation and argued that she had been unfairly dismissed.

The Tribunal noted that a full and fair investigation must be carried out before an employee is dismissed because of his/her conduct. This means that any issue which might have a bearing on the decision to dismiss the employee should be explored. It noted that the rights of the children could not be used as an excuse of depriving the teacher of fair procedures. The Tribunal held that she was unfairly dismissed and she was awarded €27,000 as compensation which included pay in lieu of notice.

The decision is a warning for employers that, regardless of how serious an offence appears to be, the lack of a full and fair investigation prior to implementing any disciplinary sanction can result in liability for breach of fair procedures. Investigations must be fair and full and must cover all issues of relevance to the decision regarding which sanction to impose. Any sanction imposed must also be proportionate to the employee’s conduct.