Farmer accused of stealing flour wins €13,400 in compensation for unfair dismissal

A Co Cavan farmer, who was sacked by Pat the Baker for stealing waste flour, has been awarded €13,400 for unfair dismissal.

Edrig Cunningham had always denied the theft, maintaining that he was doing his employer, Pat the Baker Unlimited, a “favour” to Granard, by taking material from his site in Longford.

He told the Commission on Workplace Relations that it would be dangerous to livestock if it ended up in animal feed and instead made it manure on his land.

Pat the Baker’s position was that the waste material, which included sifted flour, waste flour, waste bread and unusable material, could be sold to a food disposal firm at €68 per tonne to make feed – And Mr. Cunningham knew he shouldn’t have taken.

“We have a very clear intolerable policy for theft, whether it’s 20 percent or €2,000,” the company’s human resources chief Frank Burton said at a Workplace Relations Commission hearing in March.

But Mr Cunningham’s complaint of unfair dismissal was upheld in a decision published today – in which the adjudicating officer found that the removal of waste dough was “well known within the organization” and the bakery dismissed the employee for 24 years of service. acted improperly. ,

The bakery’s general manager, Anthony Maguire, said he began watching CCTV tapes in April 2020 after bottles of hand sanitizer went missing – and saw a front loader of Mr Cunningham’s tractor carrying an entire garbage bin.

Mr Maguire said the footage showed the complainant arriving late at night or early in the morning – and he had never given permission for the practice, nor did anyone else in the company have authority.

The bakery’s human resources manager, Frank Burton, said he had investigated the matter and Mr Cunningham admitted to taking the ingredients but insisted he had permission.

The investigation found “factual discrepancies” in his statements and the complainant was “unable to demonstrate that he had permission”.

Mr Cunningham was sacked for gross misconduct on 17 May 2020, the WRC was told.

The company’s managing director, Declan Fitzgerald, heard an appeal in July 2020 and upheld the termination.

He said there would be “huge implications” if the material allegedly stolen by Mr Cunningham had ended up in the human food chain without being processed by a registered receiver of food waste.

“It could well be for closure, contaminating the food chain, a high fine, percentage of turnover,” he said.

He said that as secretary of the Cavan Beef Planning Group, Mr Cunningham should have been especially aware of the risks involved if the ingredients were given to animals.

“It’s theft,” said Mr. Fitzgerald.

Mr Cunningham said he took the material on instructions from his superiors.

“It can’t go into animal feed — this flour is going to landfills,” he said. “It could contain pieces of glass, heavy metals, wood — we were always told it had to go to the landfill.”

Mr Cunningham’s barrister, Connor Quinn Beale, asked him to comment on stills from CCTV footage, in which one can be seen shaking a palette of expired soda bread mix.

“He [a manager] Brought it to me and said get rid of it,” said Mr. Cunningham. “That’s up to you, get rid of it.”

“If it molds it will abort the breeding cattle, they cannot be fed it,” he said.

He also said that the flour he was accused of improving was mostly made of ascorbic acid, which would “poison the rumen” of cattle and also could not pass into animal feed.

“The best thing would be to compost it,” he said.

He said he saw no benefit from removing the material from the yard and considered himself “doing a favor to move it, get rid of it”.

“It wasn’t me who was putting the company at risk. The only way to put the company at risk was to put that stuff in [feed contractor’s] bin,” he said.

In her decision, Adjudicating Officer Marguerite Buckley wrote that the disciplinary process applied to Mr Cunningham “did not follow the general principle of natural justice and fair procedures”.

“No option of dismissal was contemplated and several co-workers of the complainant made statements that [he] Has been taking waste flour for some time now, with no consideration of its interpretation in its historical context,” she wrote.

He said Mr Cunningham was told not to pick up the flour, nor was there any record of him receiving or being trained in the company’s new waste policy.

He wrote, taking the uncooked dough was “well known within the organization” and Mr Cunningham – a long-serving employee who had worked at the firm for 24 years – called for “immediate admission and explanation” for his actions. ” Had given.

“I do not think that the conclusion of the defendant’s dismissal is within a range of responses that a reasonable employer could make,” she concluded.

Ms Buckley ordered Pat the Baker to pay €13,400 for the 21 weeks of financial loss suffered before Mr Cunningham could find work again.