EMPLOYEES across the country have been put on alert about the need for proper procedures when dealing with dismissals and disciplinary matters, following a massive payout to three workers in Waterford who had admitted they had defrauded a company.
The case at the Employment Appeals Tribunals highlighted the need for all companies to ensure that proper procedures are put in place when dealing with internal disciplinary issues, as even an admission of guilt does not necessarily justify an improper dismissal.
The case involved three former workers at a Waterford carpet factory who have been awarded five-figure compensation sums by the Employment Appeals Tribunal for unfair dismissal in spite of long-running "irregularities" involving the company's clocking-in system.
The tribunal was told that some of the 40 staff at Waterford Carpets were clocked in and paid while still at home, did not do full shifts or stayed in the factory and played cards or "snoozed" in the warehouse if a job was done.
The general manager of the carpets firm said he was "shocked" by the level of absenteeism uncovered by a CCTV investigation in February 2006.
The manager installed the cameras because he was concerned production was not increasing despite the amount of overtime.
The investigation revealed that one worker was clocked in but absent from work on four occasions over a period of up 16 days.
The tribunal was told the clocking-in irregularities happened at night or during weekends when management was not present.
The tribunal said the company accepted there had been a lack of procedures to deal with dismissals and, accordingly, it found that the three men were unfairly fired.
Patrick Kenneally, of Renoir Close, Norewood, Waterford, was awarded €13,554; Derek Nolan, of Island Tarsney, South Fenor, Co Waterford, was awarded €24,863; and Sean Walsh, of Hawthorn Drive, Hillview, Waterford, was awarded €24,445.
In a determination on Tuesday, the tribunal noted that the three men "accepted in their evidence that they had defrauded" the company on an "ongoing basis".
It was also noted by the tribunal that this was a custom and practice that was both known and accepted by the management over a long period.
It added that the company "did not rebut this in its evidence".
In deciding how much to award the three workers the tribunal said there was "proven consistent fraud on the part of the claimants” and that the claimants contributed significantly to their dismissals.
"The tribunal particularly noted that the agreed figures on loss between the parties included the figure for loss to the company for periods when the claimants were clocked in and received payments but were not working."
The general manager of the factory said the timeclock irregularities were "widespread" but were not accepted practice by management.
The irregularities included workers clocking-out absent colleagues.
"It was a deliberate, thought-out process," the general manager told the tribunal.
Mr Kenneally, who had worked at the factory since 1976, "never denied he had been involved in clocking irregularities".
If he had not left the factory when a job was done he would have "played cards or gone to sleep on carpets in the warehouse, like other employees".
The practice of "going to sleep" had been going on for years and he believed management must have known about it and the clocking practices "because it could not have been kept secret".