A livestock sales agent has been awarded €2,000 for unfair dismissal by his former employer Grasstec who claimed he attempted to defraud the company through a private cattle deal.

Bobby Fenton said the accusation that he traded on his own account during working hours with Grasstec’s customers was “baseless”.

At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), lawyers for Fenton said he was afforded no notice of the meeting in which he was dismissed, no opportunity of representation and that the company did not carry out any proper investigation of the alleged incident.

Fenton was dismissed in a meeting on 25 June 2021 by senior management.

Suspicious request

Head of administration at Grasstec Aileen Carter gave evidence that she became suspicious of a request by Fenton for information on the export of livestock to the UK post-Brexit.

It is recorded by the WRC that Carter said agents do not normally make such requests and reported her suspicions to management.

Documentation was presented at the WRC to show Fenton forwarded the information to a colleague livestock agent, Mr A, who was subsequently found to have been running his own business exporting cattle to the UK while employed by Grasstec.

Manager of Grasstec’s livestock department Pat Carroll gave evidence at the WRC that he observed Fenton and Mr A at a farm in west Cork on 22 June 2021, the day cattle were to be moved by a haulier as part of Mr A’s business dealings.

Carroll said he drove Fenton home after the meeting in which he was dismissed and that Fenton admitted he was in attendance on the farm and that he should have made Grasstec aware.

Carroll added that Fenton said Grasstec managing director Bertie Troy “had no choice”.

In cross-examination, Troy accepted that Fenton was not informed in advance about the nature of the meeting in which he was dismissed, no notes were provided when requested and that he wasn’t offered the opportunity to have representation or appeal the decision.

No proper procedures

Fenton gave evidence at the WRC that no proper procedures were adopted by Grasstec when he was dismissed.

He said Troy was judge and jury on the day he was dismissed and handed him a pre-prepared letter of dismissal.

Fenton added that he had legitimate business in west Cork on the day in question at a nearby farm to the one where there was a disputed load of cattle.

He admitted that he was on the farm with Mr A on the day in question because they travelled down together and that due to the clause of exclusive service in his contract, he should have reported Mr A’s dealings to his former employer.

However, he added he was in the wrong place at the wrong time the day he was observed on the farm in west Cork by Carroll.

WRC adjudication officer Thomas O'Driscoll said “there was a total disregard for any type of fair procedure” by Grasstec.

“The respondent [Grasstec] may well have been justifiably angry at the turn of events suggesting cattle trading outside of its ambit by employees, but the complainant [Fenton] was not informed in advance of an investigation nor of the disciplinary meeting on 25 June 2021.

“He was not offered the opportunity to be represented and the evidence shows clearly that the letter of dismissal was prepared in advance of the meeting thus suggesting that the complainant’s case was never going to be considered,” he said.

He awarded Fenton €2,000 in compensation under Section 8 of the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977.