The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in Ireland has ordered Dawn Meats to pay former employee Aeron James €12,566 after his dismissal was 'both substantively and procedurally unfair'.

Mr James, who is a farmer, had been working at Dawn Meats when we was given certified sick leave after sustaining an injury leading cattle into a pen at the meat plant. The commission then heard that Dawn Meats hired a private eye who spent three days carrying out 'covert surveillance' of the man at his home while he was off work in April 2020.

Dawn Meats believed 'suspicions had been aroused' when Mr James agreed to deliver it a load of hay while on sick leave. However, Mr James argued that his wife and children loaded the trailer and he drove it to the meat plant, where it was unloaded by someone else.

On returning from sick leave Mr James’s representatives at the hearing stated he was summoned to a meeting into 'allegations of breach of trust and dishonesty'.

At this point Mr James said he was shown 60 photographs taken covertly by a private investigator of him working at his farm whilst signed off work. The tasks were described by Mr James as only 'menial', whilst Dawn Meats contended that they were 'more labour-intensive than the duties associated with his job'.

In his defence Mr James stated he had no employees and had no option but to carry out these tasks and tend to his animals regardless of the fact that he was certified unfit to work.

Mr James’ union representative wrote to Dawn Meats two days after the disciplinary hearing to object to the 'procedurally flawed' disciplinary process and the use of covert surveillance at the farm. Dawn Meats responded that the process had adhered to the 'principles of natural justice'.

The WRC concluded that Mr James had not been properly informed of the nature of the allegations of gross misconduct against him when he was suspended. The failure to provide advance details was in breach of Dawn Meats’ disciplinary policy, according to the WRC.

The Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union welcomed the decision saying: “This case clearly indicates the right that the workers have to privacy in relation to their employer and that it is essential that disciplinary investigations are conducted with the upmost respect to the principles of independence and impartiality.”