Global menu

Our global pages

Close

An overview of a recent High Court case - O’Leary v An Post

  • Ireland
  • General

30-06-2016

Introduction

Last month the High Court granted an injunction preventing a company from proceeding with  an appeal against a dismissal until the employee was provided with reasons for his dismissal.  This month’s update examines this case in detail.

Background

Mr O’Leary was employed as a clerk at Cork General Post Office. His contract of employment allowed for termination of employment in cases of serious misconduct and for disciplinary action in cases of less serious misconduct.  An Post also had a disciplinary policy and procedure in place.

An Post initiated an investigation in relation to “suspected irregularities” in customer payment transactions carried out by An Post employees, including Mr. O’Leary.  Mr O’Leary was interviewed as part of this investigation. 

Despite being unable to explain the transactions, he denied the accusations brought against him.
 
The investigation found that Mr O’Leary’s explanations were unacceptable and An Post wrote to him informing him that the matter was being pursued through its disciplinary procedures.  An oral hearing took place following which An Post wrote to the employee informing him of its decision to dismiss him based on the grounds of “loss of trust and confidence”.

Mr O’Leary then wrote to An Post stating that he wished to appeal the dismissal. His solicitor requested an oral hearing of the appeal and asked for details of the alleged misconduct, including a definition of the term “loss of trust and confidence”.   An Post responded stating that there was no specific definition as such terms were widely understood. 

The employee’s solicitor wrote again to An Post requiring an undertaking that the proposed oral hearing would not proceed until an agreement was reached between the parties on a “protocol” to govern the disciplinary process.  An Post replied stating that there was no question of the agreement of any protocol in circumstances where the company was following its agreed disciplinary policy and procedures.

Mr O’Leary sought an injunction from the High Court to prevent An Post from dismissing him as well as damages for breach of contract and mental distress.  Interestingly, the employee also sought to prevent the defendant from taking further steps to consider his appeal and from conducting an oral hearing, which he himself had initially requested.

Decision

Mr O’Leary relied on the common law rules of natural justice regarding allegations of misconduct against an employee.  He argued that it is an implied term in the contract of every employee that a breach of such a duty is in fact a breach of contract. 

Keane J considered the requirements of fair procedures in this case.  He stated that since a person facing a disciplinary procedure has a basic entitlement to know the charges against him, then it must follow that a person who wishes to appeal an adverse determination is also entitled to know the charges against him.  In this context, the court found it was not enough for An Post to say that it had lost “trust and confidence” in Mr O’Leary. 

The court granted an interlocutory injunction to prevent an appeal taking place until Mr O’Leary was furnished with the reasons for his dismissal.

This decision highlights the importance of adequately informing an employee of the grounds for dismissal.  For employers, this is yet another case reinforcing how fundamental adhering to fair procedures is when taking disciplinary action against an employee.  Central to this decision are the principles of natural justice and basic fairness which the courts will imply into a contract of employment where adequate disciplinary procedures are not in place.

Disclaimer

This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full terms and conditions on our website.

< Go back

Print Friendly and PDF
Register to receive regular updates via email.