September 23, 2022

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A former chief executive of a Co Tipperary business group has been awarded €20,000 after he made a complaint of unfair dismissal to the Workplace Relations Commission.

In a decision published on Wednesday by the WRC, David Shanahan’s complaint against Clonmel Chamber of Commerce Ltd, County Tipperary Chamber, was upheld on grounds of procedural unfairness.

Mr Shanahan had become CEO with the Chamber on March 23rd, 2017, but his employment was terminated on September 18th, 2020.

On September 17th, 2019, it came to the attention of the Chamber’s president that a LinkedIn post uploaded by Mr Shanahan on the Chamber’s account had attracted the attention of some of the members.

The president said she was of the opinion that the post was political in nature and inappropriate and requested it be removed.

Mr Shanahan maintained he immediately removed the post but it was alleged the post remained on the Chamber’s profile when the president checked it that afternoon. At some point, the Nationalist Newspaper had taken the post and published it, the WRC heard.

Moreover, the Chamber treasurer said he found discrepancies with expenses on the respondent’s credit card that appeared to be personal expenses. Mr Shanahan was suspended on full pay pending an investigation.

A letter was issued by the president on September 25th, 2019, alleging theft or unauthorised possession of any property or facilities of the company, through use of the company credit card. It also accused Mr Shanahan of not conducting himself in a professional manner regarding the online post and of a “serious breach of trust” when Mr Shanahan allegedly used the card for personal matters and to withdraw cash in advance of salary.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lay-off of staff, including Mr Shanahan, the disciplinary process failed to progress until the Chamber was in a position to pay his salary.

Mr Shanahan was advised by letter dated May 17th, 2020, that his period of lay-off would cease the next day, at which point he would then continue his period of suspension on full pay. However, the disciplinary hearing did not take place until August 2020.

Despite his objection, the Chamber found the online post to be political, though there were no procedures in place regarding the release of statements. Regarding use of the card, it was acknowledged that there was no policy in place but the Chamber believed that Mr Shanahan “ought to have known the difference between business related and personal expenses such as dry cleaning, screen wash and single lunches”. It was decided that the complainant be summarily dismissed for gross misconduct.

Mr Shanahan’s appeal was refused on October 7th, 2020. Mr Shanahan maintained that summary dismissal was disproportionate to the alleged offences and said that there had been no policy in place either on use of the credit card or online postings.

The complainant said he believed he would have repaid the €60 alleged to have been owed from the card back to petty cash, which should have been recorded but had no evidence of the repayment. A witness in charge of petty cash said she recalled the money being repaid.

Mr Shanahan further claimed that the decision to suspend him pending the investigation was made the day before a meeting of September 25th , 2019, and was therefore “pre-determined” and “punitive”.

In her decision, Ewa Sobanska, said she found the decision to dismiss “not within the range of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer”.

“The complainant was not informed of the purpose of the meeting in advance, he was not informed of his right to representation. The decision to suspend the complainant had already been made prior to the meeting on September 25th, 2019.

“I find that the complainant was unfairly dismissed within the meaning of Section 6 of the Unfair Dismissals Acts. I deem that an award of €20,000 to be the appropriate award,” she said.

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