The Labour Court has recently ruled that a DHL van driver involved in a series of accidents was unfairly dismissed. The €72,042 compensation award equates to two years’ remuneration – the maximum permitted.

The Claimant was employed as a driver for 11 years. He received a written warning for a driving incident in 2012, and a final written warning for a second incident in 2013. These warnings were ‘live’ for 12 months, after which they expired.

In 2015 he was involved in a third incident, which resulted in €2,500 damage to the van. By this stage the previous warnings had expired. DHL convened a disciplinary hearing for “failure to protect and safeguard company property”.

At the hearing, the driver accepted that the damage was caused by an error of judgment. Throughout the hearing, numerous references were made by the employer to the previous incidents. The Claimant was summarily dismissed with immediate effect for gross misconduct on the basis he had failed to protect and safeguard company property. The company also noted its’ serious concerns about his ability to safely carry out his duties.

At the WRC hearing the WRC Adjudication Officer found the dismissal disproportionate and ordered reinstatement.

At the Labour Court appeal DHL argued it had no choice but to dismiss as it had lost confidence in the driver’s abilities. Company management stated it was appropriate for it to consider the Claimant’s entire employment history, regardless of the fact that the previous warnings had lapsed.

The Court felt that the most recent (2015) incident was not sufficient to amount to gross misconduct when considered in isolation and that summary dismissal was disproportionate. The Court also took into consideration the employer’s failure to consider alternative sanctions and the undue weight placed on the previous, expired warnings.

Conclusion

The decision emphasises the importance of adhering to fair procedures in disciplinary processes including the importance of dealing with the issues actually alleged and not historical issues. It also highlights the importance of employers showing that they actively considered alternative sanctions to dismissal – this is a point often noted in unfair dismissal decisions. Finally, the relative size of the award (albeit as an alternative to reinstatement) underlines the costs for employers of failing to conduct fair disciplinary processes.