Schools building agency ordered to pay €22,000 to employee dismissed over sick leave

A 64-year-old former Projects Supervisor at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools has been awarded €22,000 over his unjust dismissal

File photo
File photo

A 64-year-old former Projects Supervisor at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools has been awarded €22,000 over his unjust dismissal, which came after he refused an order to resign when he had requested a sick leave extension.

In a recent judgment, the Industrial Tribunal, chaired by Edmund Tabone, ruled the man’s 2018 dismissal to have been unfair, as the employee’s health and factual medical evidence provided was not considered in the Foundation’s decision to dismiss, which only considered the Foundation’s working requirements.

The plaintiff, who had worked as a Projects Supervisor at the Foundation for 12 years, had been fired in May 2018 after having been on sick leave owing to a psychiatric condition from January that year. Before being dismissed, he had asked for an extension to his sick leave, on the advice of his psychiatrist.

But far from being granted the extension, he was asked to resign, and when he refused, he was fired, noted the tribunal.

He had been contacted by the HR & Communications Manager at the Foundation, who called him to find out when he would be back at work after he had been on sick leave for some days. The indications were that he would be on sick leave for some time.

In April, a month before his dismissal, he had received a letter from the HR department asking after his position. Two days later, he had replied, requesting his employer apply an established procedure that would allow him to take 50% of his unused sick leave. This procedure required approval from the Chief Executive before the request was granted.

He later sent a medical certificate confirming his diagnosis.

On 2 May that year, HR had informed the worker in writing that his request was being refused and demanded his resignation by 7 May 2018.

He refused to comply with this instruction, which he said was abusive and infringed his rights. A week later, on 9 May, he had received another letter, this time from the Chief Executive, informing him that he had been dismissed with immediate effect on health grounds.

The employee insisted that the Foundation’s actions were unreasonable, both with regards to the request for extension of sick leave, as well as about his sudden dismissal. He told the tribunal that his first ten years of employment had been trouble-free and that the problems had started in his last two years as he approached retirement age.

There had also been substantial changes in management during the three years preceding the termination of his employment, with the Foundation going through three different Chief Executives during that period.

He had been given two minor warnings regarding failure to follow instructions correctly.

In his testimony, the plaintiff told the tribunal that during that period he found no cooperation from his superiors and would often be left to take decisions that fell outside his competence with no supervision. These circumstances had affected his mental health so much that he had ended up on sick leave, he said.

The tribunal, presided by Chairman Edmund Tabone, ruled that the request for extension of the plaintiff’s sick leave had not been considered properly. The priority was clearly not the employee’s health and factual medical evidence, but only work requirements said the tribunal.

The Chairman also noted that the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools had brought no evidence that the plaintiff was, in fact, not sick, adding that it had also ignored the fact that the termination was about an extension of sick leave ad had instead tried to argue that it had been on the basis of his shortcomings, which however had not led to any disciplinary proceedings.

The lack of due process also infringed his right to a defence, the tribunal said. 

In light of this, the plaintiff was awarded €22,000 in compensation, which must be paid within one month from the date of the decision.