Swaine Solicitors LLP acted on behalf of Karen Egan who was re-instated to her position with Ulster Bank following a decision by the Employee Appeals Tribunal that she had been dismissed unfairly.

Ms Egan had told the Employment Appeals Tribunal she worked as a bank official in Ulster Bank’s branch in Castlebar since February 2000.  On March 16th 2010, Ms Egan was suffering from a medical condition that flares up from time to time and needed to obtain a prescription from her Doctor.  Due to a staff shortage at the Castlebar branch, Ms Egan contacted her GP and the prescription was faxed to her.

On the same day, Ms Egan’s car was being serviced at a local garage which she was to collect before 6pm.

After the branch closed, part of her duties involved balancing the cash, which was usually completed after 5pm.  Once the cash was balanced, it was no longer possible to operate the electronic banking systems in the branch.  Some time later, Ms Egan realised she had no means to pay the garage for the work on her car as she did not have any of her credit cards with her at work on that day.  She also had no cheques remaining in her cheque book.

At around 5.40pm, Ms Egag removed €350 from the till and left a debit docket as a record of the withdrawl.  It was agreed the branch manager was normally still on the premises at this time.

The next working day was March 18, when Ms Egan was not due at work.  Some time after 9am, but before the branch opened, Ms Egan telephoned a colleague who was performing the same duties as Ms Egan had on March 16.  She asked her colleague to put the €350 back in the till from Ms Egan’s account.

Her colleague did not reverse the debit note but instead brought the matter to the attention of her team leader who then brought the matter to the branch manager on March 19.  There was a misunderstanding between Ms Egan and her husband which meant that initially there were insufficient funds in her account to enable the money be repaid when attempts were made to process it.

On March 24 Ms Egan, together with a union representative and a note taker met with the branch manager where Ms Egan recounted the events of March 16.  She accepted it was against the policy and procedures of Ulster Bank to process activity on her own account.  The bank manager then wrote to Ms Egan that day, suspending her with pay following further investigations.

On March 25 2010, the area manager wrote to Ms Egan inviting her to a disciplinary meeting.  In the letter the allegations were set out that she took €350 from her till on March 16, put a signed debit docket in her till but did not ask a cashier to process it through the branch teller systems: she recorded her till as balanced but knew it was short €350: she did not tell her line manager: she phoned a colleague to process the transaction on March 18.  It was alleged these actions represented a failure to exercise adequate control over cash and did not adhere to the company’s instructions. Ms Egan was made aware the allegations could be considered gross misconduct.

At a disciplinary meeting on April 12 2010, the area manager took the view that the actions of Ms Egan had led to a breakdown of employer-employee trust and Ms Egan was informed that she was to be dismissed from her employment.

An appeal hearing was held on May 14 2010 conducted by a business banking manager and a human resource business partner for retail.  At the end of the appeal, both bank representatives had a different view of the matter.  The tribunal heard that the business banking manager felt the penalty of dismissal was extreme but changed his view following advice from the human resource manager.

Ms Egan then exercised her right to and external appeal which was heard on January 17 2011.  The appeal was rejected on January 31.

In its judgement, the Employment Appeals Tribunal said the conduct of the employee amounted to gross misconduct under the company’s code of practice.  However, it was clear from the evidence that the business banking manager felt the dismissal was extreme.  The Employment Appeals Tribunal was not satisfied that the business banking manager was not subjected to undue influence as a result of which he changed his view of the appeal, which ultimately resulted in Ms Egan’s dismissal.

“It follows that the Tribunal is not satisfied that the conduct of the appeal was fair in all the circumstances, and, accordingly, finds that the dismissal was unfair.”

The Employment Appeals Tribunal ruled by a majority decision – with one dissenting member – that Ms Egan should be re-engaged within six weeks of the decision.  It was the opinion of the dissenting member that she should be awarded compensation rather than re-engaged.  The period from the dismissal until her re-engagement is to be considered a period of unpaid suspension, thereby preserving her continuity of service.