Case Number: ADJ-00026707. Workplace Relations Commission

CourtWorkplace Relations Commission
Docket NumberADJ-00026707
Procedure:

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 hearing was held via a virtual platform as a Remote Hearing on 3rd November 2010.

Background:

The Complainant is a secondary school teacher, she started her employment with the Respondent in August 2006.

The Complainant referred her complaint to the Director General of the WRC alleging that she was penalised for complying with or making a complaint under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005.

The Complainant was represented by her brother. The Respondent was represented by the Joint Managerial Body.

Preliminary matter: correct respondent

The present complaint was heard in conjunction with ADJ-00026817 against the former Chair of the Board of Management, and ADJ-00026818 against the Principal of the School.

At the outset of the hearing, the Respondent raised a preliminary issue in relation to the correct respondent. The Respondent asserted that the cases are identical and that the appropriate respondent in a complaint of penalisation under the Act is the employer or former employer of the Complainant. The Respondent argued that the Board of Management of the School should be the only named respondent in the complaints before the WRC.

At the adjudication hearing the Complainant withdrew her claims bearing reference numbers ADJ-00026817 against the former Chairperson of the Board of Management and ADJ-00026818 against the Principal of the School. The Complainant was informed that, consequently, the WRC has no further jurisdiction regarding the above matter and no further action will be taken in respect of the two claims.

Substantive matter: Summary of Complainant’s Case:

The Complainant’s submits as follows:

The Complainant’s initial grievance arose when on 14th January 2019 in the office of the Principal, the Principal shouted at the Complainant and made false accusations against her. Over the following weeks, there were instances where the Principal appeared to deliberately undermine the Complainant’s role as a teacher. The Complainant claims that she was also falsely accused of not contributing adequately in her role as a guidance counsellor.

The Complainant submits that the Principal only wanted to meet the Complainant on her terms, and the Complainant was genuinely afraid of her. The Complainant then decided to go to the Chairperson of the Board of Management of the school to seek support to have her grievance investigated impartially. The Complainant submits that all she wanted was an apology and an assurance she would not be subjected to any further episodes of intimidating and undermining behaviour.

The Complainant claims that the Chairperson refused to assist her and despite disclosing to the Chairperson her fear of the Principal, the Chairperson was still insistent that the only way to resolve the Complainant’s grievance was to go back and face the Principal. Of note also is that she never allowed the Complainant to discuss the nature of her grievance.

The Complainant claims that she then submitted her grievance in writing to the Chairperson as her "contact person" expecting that an impartial investigation would follow and that was also denied. It then became clear to the Complainant that the Principal and the Chairperson were determined to suppress the matter completely by not facilitating an opportunity to investigate her grievance.

The Complainant then copied her grievance to the other members of the Board of Management and informed the Chairperson that she was doing so. The Chairperson immediately wrote to the Board members demanding that they completely ignore the grievance and instructed them not to contact the Complainant or to discuss the matter amongst themselves. On learning this from the Board members, the Complainant informed the Chairperson that she was referring her grievance to the WRC for adjudication under the Industrial Relations Act, 1969 because she completely lost the trust in the Chairperson.

At the WRC adjudication hearing into the case under the Industrial Relations Act, the Principal and the Chairperson raised the issue of the Complainant being a secondary teacher and not having locus standi under the Act. On submitting her grievance, the Complainant was not aware of the Locus Standi matter and she did not expect her case not progressing on that basis.

Whilst awaiting a recommendation from the WRC after the hearing, it came to the Complainant’s attention that the Principal and the Chairperson had set up a separate investigation into her grievance which concluded that the Principal had no case to answer. The Chairperson presented that report to the Board of Management and declared that the case was closed.

The Complainant submits that she was not aware that this alleged investigation took place until she was presented with the report, so she did not know what was investigated, because she was the person who had the grievance and she was not invited to attend the investigation.

The Complainant submits that she referred her complaint to the WRC because of the abusive behaviour of the Principal of the Respondent on 14th January 2019. In the weeks that followed the Principal blatantly subjected her to further incidents of undermining and ridiculing behaviour, in an apparent attempt to inflict as much stress as she possibly could on the Complainant.

On reporting these matters to the Chairperson of the Board of Management (BOM), with the intention of getting an apology from the Principal and a commitment from her to cease the unacceptable behaviour, it became apparent immediately that the Chairperson had colluded with the Principal to suppress an impartial investigation into these serious grievances.

The Complainant then reached out again to the WRC in an attempt to have the incident adjudicated. As the previous complaint was submitted under incorrect legislation, the Complainant re-submitted her claim under the Welfare, Health and Safety at Work Act, 2005.

The Grievance against the Principal

The Complainant submits that, historically, she has had to endure many stressful incidents with the Principal, in which she felt threatened, intimidated and undermined by her behaviour, but she never had the courage to challenge her.

On January 14th, 2019, the Complainant went to the Principal to apologise for a text message she had sent to her in error. The Principal’s response was intensely aggressive and condescending and truly frightened the Complainant. She shouted and swore at the Complainant and interrupted her when she tried to speak. She then went on a verbal assault on her contribution to the school and her alleged lack of support for the students, and on her work ethic, all of which was totally false and unsustainable and was potentially libellous.

The undermining behaviour was relentless from mid-January to mid-February, and the Complainant decided that she couldn’t ignore it any longer and she submitted an email to the Principal outlining her grievances. She was afraid to confront her about the unacceptable behaviour she had to endure because she believed she wouldn’t be listened to, and she feared being ridiculed and shouted at again.

On receipt of the written grievances, the email response from the Principal neither acknowledged nor denied the grievances.

The grievances she submitted were as follows:

A Student:

This scenario relates to an attempt by a student to take up an additional subject in her leaving certificate. The Student went through a very thorough evaluation of her situation with the Complainant, her career guidance counsellor, and then went to the Principal seeking permission to take up religious education as an additional subject.

The Principal refused to meet with her and instead castigated the Complainant and accused her of telling the student that “religion was the perfect subject...

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