Case Number: ADJ-00026547. Workplace Relations Commission

CourtWorkplace Relations Commission
Docket NumberADJ-00026547

In accordance with Section 41 of the Workplace Relations Act, 2015 following the referral of the complaint to me by the Director General, I inquired into the complaint and gave the parties an opportunity to be heard by me and to present to me any evidence relevant to the complaint.


The Complainant is employed as a Laboratory Attendant since October 2001. He is paid €1,006.08 per fortnight. He has claimed that he was penalised for making a complaint about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the use of chemicals. He is seeking compensation.

Summary of Complainant’s Case:

The Complainant is employed as a Laboratory Assistant and Civil Servant. He has worked in this role from 22/10/2001. The laboratory undertakes continuous surveillance for exotic and endemic disease conditions in Irish livestock. It provides a laboratory diagnostic service to private veterinary practitioners and farmers. He undertakes general operative and assistant work in the Laboratory. He noticed a deterioration in his health in late 2017. He experienced breathing difficulties whilst at work. These illnesses lessened following a period of time off at home on sick leave absence. He ascribed the illnesses to the workplace and in particular the use of chemical agents known as formalin which is a formaldehyde-based substance and is widely used in the Laboratory. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) based in Atlanta, Georgia, is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It describes Formaldehyde as a colourless, highly toxic, and flammable gas at room temperature that is slightly heavier than air. It has a pungent, highly irritating odour that is detectable at low concentrations, but may not provide adequate warning of hazardous concentrations for sensitized persons. Amongst other things Formaldehyde is described by the ATSDR as an eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritant. Inhalation of vapours can produce narrowing of the bronchi and an accumulation of fluid in the lungs. Formaldehyde solution (formalin) causes corrosive injury to the gastrointestinal tract, especially the pharynx, epiglottis, oesophagus, and stomach.

The systemic effects of formaldehyde are due primarily to its metabolic conversion to formate and may include metabolic acidosis, circulatory shock, respiratory insufficiency, and acute renal failure. Formaldehyde is a potent sensitizer and a probable human carcinogen. He raised these issues with the employer in December 2017 following which protective measures including breathing apparatus had been installed. An upgrading of the use of this agent and the preventative and protective measures were advised to all of the Departments 6 RVL’s throughout the country in the period following the Complainants notice to the employer. Details supplied shows the assessment of his state of health advising of suspected chemical pneumonitis. He has also received medical advice and attention as a result of his required use

at work of the chemical agents. He has also commenced legal proceedings against

the Department for compensation due to injury at work.

Workplace Relations

The Complainant alleges that following this incident relations at work with his

managers deteriorated to the point of him feeling isolated and being treated differently at work than his colleagues. He first noticed this when he received a severe rebuke from his manager when he contributed to a conversation via email regarding the storage and

water temperature of the mixture when preparing Anistel disinfectant for use. Details supplied showed the response of his manager as feeling let down and very disappointed on the 8th of December 2017 and then a number of days later a recognition of the correct nature of the advice that he attempted to provide his manager for which he was rebuked publicly.

The Complainant stated that a pattern emerged where changes to his work-life were made that differed from his colleagues in other labs. He was instructed not to use the delivery van anymore at lunch times and could only use it for authorised runs and a time log and mileage register had to be maintained as per DAFM driving policy. When he questioned with his supervisor that other labs had not introduced the same policy he was advised that the

Lab supervisor was entitled to exercise his/her discretion in this regard.

During a meeting with his manager where the Complainant was discussing a complaint he

was making against another colleague who was a senior laboratory technician, the manager raised the perception that staff were reporting that he was difficult to work with. The Complainant asked for examples and the manager said that he had noticed that he would not park his car in the carpark and was parking it outside on the road. He advised that he had

to park it there to keep it in the shade so his working dog would not be stressed in the sun in a

vehicle. The point the Complainant made here is that he was being monitored by staff and

the manager to the extent of where he parked his private vehicle.

The Complainant also describes his colleagues taking photographs of the facilities bins.

His duty was to empty these bins every evening however if one of his colleagues noted that

something else had been placed in the bin after being emptied they would photograph the

content of the bin. The photos were shot on the Laboratory camera which was viewed by the


The Complainant described an escalating series of incidents at work and no action being

taken on the complaint he had made to his manager regarding one of his colleagues, who was also the Health and Safety Officer for the RVL. Following a formal complaint made

by the Complainant to Dept HR Division the complaint was settled following mediation.

He describes incidences and the undermining of his work by his colleagues throughout 2019. He documented all of the incidences in a diary and he reported constant undermining and being challenged at work on every issue possible. He states that these challenges in email were often circulated to a wide staff pool which painted him in an incompetent manner, whilst his co-worker was treated differently not being subject to the same emails or harassment and verbal conflict. Matters took a decidedly more sinister turn when he

was disciplined and received a verbal warning and sanction for an offence that should not have been applied to an employee at his grade level in the Civil Service.

Disciplinary Process

In Sept 2019 the Respondent became aware of reports of his role in the Beef Plan Movement and a producer organisation, and his attendance as a member of a delegation that met with Department Officials in relation to securing an EU license to undertake price negotiations on behalf of Beef Producers. He was advised of a disciplinary process to be undertaken to investigate the complaints. On the 27th of September his union wrote to the Department requesting him not to go ahead with the disciplinary process as there was no basis for it proceeding, The points made in that letter refer to the health damages claim...

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