A care worker who locked out a disabled woman 'for banter' won €15,000 for unfair dismissal

Her employer, Clann Mor, said it had a zero-tolerance policy for abuse.

By Gordon Deegan

A WORKER AT a residential centre for disabled adults in Navan was sacked after locking a woman with intellectual disabilities outside the facility.

Concepta Brebner brought an unfair dismissal action to the Employment Appeals Tribunal after her sacking. The tribunal found in her favour and awarded her €15,000.

It found that the decision by the HSE-funded Clann Mor Residential and Respite Limited to fire the worker “was disproportionate and the punishment did not fit the crime”.

The tribunal report said the service user was very upset and unhappy after being locked out of the facility in October 2013, although it was not clear how long the event lasted.

At a meeting with her employer, Brebner admitted she had locked the service user out for a period and described the incident as “a bit of fun and banter”.

In her evidence at a four-day hearing, Brebner said that she has worked in disability care for 20 years and for Clann Mor for 12 years.

She said that she was awarded her qualifications in 2007, and that she later earned a degree.

Brebner accepted the facts of the incident, which was identified a day later when the mother of the service user concerned phoned to report the events.

‘Zero tolerance’

A representative for Clann Mor told the hearing that “abuse is considered abuse and a no tolerance attitude must prevail”.

The witness stated that the funding body for Clann Mor’s services requires it to accept a no-tolerance policy and only one sanction could apply due to this rule.

A treasurer for Clann Mor said that Brebner did not have the authority to reprimand or violate the rights of any of the service-users.

However Brebner said that the first time that she learned that her job was in jeopardy was when she received the dismissal letter in January 2014.

She said that was aware of verbal warnings and final written warnings as possible sanctions, and the first she heard of the zero-tolerance policy was at the first day of hearing before the tribunal.

In its ruling, the tribunal found that Brebner was allowed to work unsupervised for a period of two months from the date of the incident, during which time she was working with vulnerable service users in Kells.

During this period also she had the responsibility of opening and closing the respite centre at Christmas and preparing Christmas meals.

The tribunal stated that a possible implication is that the centre did not initially believe that Brebner’s action amounted to gross misconduct.

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