ADJUDICATION OFFICER RECOMMENDATION
Adjudication Reference: ADJ-00010334
Guest Services Agent
Cathy Dolan, Deirdre Hayes
Complaint/Dispute Reference No.
Date of Receipt
Complaint seeking adjudication by the Workplace Relations Commission under section 13 of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969
Date of Adjudication Hearing: 02/01/2018
Workplace Relations Commission Adjudication Officer: Eugene Hanly
In accordance with Section 13 of the Industrial Relations Acts 1969 following the referral of the dispute to me by the Director General, I inquired into the dispute and gave the parties an opportunity to be heard by me and to present to me any evidence relevant to the dispute.
The Worker is employed as a Guest Services Agent since 2005. She is paid €685.38 per week. She has claimed that her employer has failed to confirm that she followed the correct policy, they failed to support her and she is seeking compensation and an apology.
Summary of Worker’s Case:
An incident occurred on 27th January 2014 when the Claimant was checking in passengers. She followed procedures and asked a passenger for supporting documentation. He became very irate. She utilised the assistance of her colleague and a supervisor but the passenger became more aggressive. She then removed herself from the situation. Her grievance is that her employer did not support her despite her following the correct procedure. She raised a formal grievance in February 2014. The investigation report was not completed satisfactorily and was not circulated to her until early 2015. The findings were subsequently appealed. A further delay took place resulting in the Claimant referring a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). She received a formal apology and compensation of €1,000. The outcome of the second investigation was issued in May and the Complainant appealed the outcome. Her appeal was not upheld.
Regarding the incident of January 2014, she complied with company procedure and asked for further documentation in compliance with the company’s system for dealing with such matters. The company places great emphasis on the referencing of the system to ensure that all documents and VISAs are in order as the airline is open to fines. She discussed the issue with a colleague who advised her to contact a supervisor, which she did. She also got a colleague who could speak the passenger’s language. She then left the area and returned shortly and the passenger became very aggressive. She felt intimidated and spoke to the Airport Police. She then removed herself and informed her supervisor. The supervisor was only concerned with who had informed the police and the Duty Manager’s request for a report. While she was in the break room in a distressed state the supervisor asked her to write up a report. She was told by the supervisor that she should not have left the check in area without informing the supervisor. The supervisor also stated that the passenger was not abusive. The supervisors were only concerned with getting the passenger to travel and not their duty of care to her. She referred to the company’s General Conditions of Carriage and the Disruptive (Unruly) Passenger Policy. The second investigator found that the passenger was mishandled, this is in conflict with the earlier report. This report also found that the supervisors were not aware of her upset. The report places great emphasis on the fact that the company took no punitive measures following this incident but it took a toll on her. The report found that the Claimant was well trained and experienced and that she should have handled the situation better. Therefore, she was not vindicated. The passenger had a seamless entry into his destination and on subsequent occasions. The report also found that she had not interpreted the rules correctly. She believes that she followed the correct procedures on the day despite the passenger becoming abusive and her supervisor and duty manager not exercising a duty of care.
She is seeking a written apology from the company and two named supervisors, an acknowledgement that she performed her duties in line with company procedures and to the best of her ability, an acknowledgement that the company did not fulfil its obligation under its duty of care to her.
Summary of Employer’s Case:
This matter arose from an incident on 27th January 2014. The incident involved a passenger who holds an Irish passport travelling to Zurich and he was a frequent traveller. He confirmed that he was living in Zurich. The Complainant proceeded to query whether he had appropriate residency documentation to live in Switzerland and requested sight of this visa documentation. He became irate at this request. She began a process with other colleagues to verify visa documentation despite being advised by a colleague to escalate the matter to a supervisor. This was in line with procedures and training. She did not do so. Airport Police were called and visited the vicinity but had no interaction with either party. Their arrival appears to have increased the passenger’s annoyance. A supervisor and duty manager then dealt with the passenger. They satisfied themselves that the passenger was suitable to travel. The passenger did apologise for his language. The supervisor then returned to the check desk having escorted the passenger to his flight, to discover that the Complainant was not there and had not told anyone. They found her in the break room and requested a report as to what had happened. This is in line with company procedure. She left without submitting the report and later that evening submitted a grievance to HR and Ground Operations Management. No report was received from the Complainant. There was no further informal or formal process around this event and no consequences for the Complainant. An investigation into her grievance was carried out in March/April 2014. Unfortunately, the findings were completed but not circulated to the Complainant until early 2015. The investigation did not uphold her grievance. She appealed the outcome. The outcome of the appeal was issued in September 2015.It was found that some omissions were made in the original investigation and it recommended a new investigation. It is accepted that the second investigation encountered significant delays and this became the subject of a Workplace Relations Commission referral. Arising from this she received an apology and an award of €1,000 in compensation for the delays. This second investigation concluded in May 2017. She appealed the outcome and it did not uphold it.
It is the company’s position that she is a trained and experienced guest services professional. She is required to be able to deal with passengers that are difficult. In this case the difficulties appear to have been caused by her decision to question the passenger about his residency/immigration status. The passenger should have been checked in without any issue. The system operated by her indicated that there were no entry visa requirements applicable. Even if she had any concerns the well-established procedure is to contact the supervisor. This grievance concerns the supervisor and duty manager’s responses to her. The internal investigations and appeals did not uphold her allegations against them. The management concerned firstly sought to diffuse the situation. They established that there was not a need for the Police to be there. The Police confirmed to them that the passenger posed no risk. They then facilitated the passenger to board his flight. They then sought to speak with the Complainant about what had happened but she had left the area. They found her in the break room they asked if she was OK and requested a report. The internal grievance investigation found that they had acted in accordance with company procedures. There was nothing in their actions that could be described as unsupportive. The company regrets the significant delays in carrying out the investigations and have apologised for it. This matter has now been considered by four separate independent managers and none of them have upheld the grievance. There have been no consequences arising from the events of January 2014. Her requests from this hearing presupposes that there were findings in her favour. This was not the case. She has not accepted the outcome of the internal grievance procedure which is now exhausted. There has been no failure on the part of the company to discharge their duty of care. Had she alerted the supervisor in good time the ensuing confrontation could have been avoided. This claim is rejected.
Findings and Conclusions:
I note that this matter began in January 2014.
I note that this complaint has been the subject of two investigations and two appeal investigations, a referral to the WRC on a procedural matter and it is still unresolved.
I note that the Complainant was subjected to unacceptable delays in the process that resulted in her receiving an apology and compensation for the delays.
I find that the incident of January 2014 was in effect investigated on four occasions and in all four it was found that her complaint was not upheld.
I note that this has been the result of independent persons carrying out these investigations.
I note that the Complainant is seeking a written apology from the company and from two named supervisors, an acknowledgement that she performed her duties in line with company procedures and to the best of her ability and an acknowledgement that the company did not fulfil its obligation under its duty of care to her.
I note that it is accepted that the Complainant is a well trained and experienced professional.
I note the conflict of evidence regarding the actual incident and its aftermath.
Regarding the checking-in of passengers’ procedure, it is very clear based on company policy that in the event of a difficulty the matter should be escalated to a supervisor.
I note that she sought the assistance of colleagues and one of her colleagues recommended that she call a supervisor but she did not at that stage.
I note that matters became heated with this passenger when she questioned him about his residency/immigration status.
I note that the Complainant confirmed to this hearing that she told the passenger “I can’t check you in”.
I note that this gave rise to the passenger becoming more aggrieved and aggressive in his conduct and behaviour.
I note that the passenger subsequently apologised for his behaviour.
I note while the Airport Police were called their presence was deemed not appropriate.
I find the statement “I can’t check you in” to be the Complainant confirming a decision of the airline.
I find that this was unhelpful in the circumstances and in breach of the company policy, which is to escalate the matter to a supervisor.
Had she said “please excuse me till I get a supervisor to deal with you” or such words would have, in my opinion, diffused the situation.
Therefore, I find that she did not adhere to the company policy and procedure.
I note that an internal investigation showed that the passenger should have been checked in without any issue.
I note that the Respondent did not take any action whatsoever against the Complainant regarding this incident and so wanted the matter to rest.
I note the allegation that the Respondent did not fulfil its obligation under its duty of care to her and that the management were more interested in the passenger than in her.
I accept in that situation the priority was to deal with the passenger and get him sorted, which they did.
I note that they then sought out the Complainant but she had left her work station, which they believe was without informing anyone. I note that this is denied, however the Respondent has not made any issue of this.
I note that they asked her to prepare a report, which she did not.
I note the conflict of evidence regarding whether the Complainant was in an upset state.
I note the conflicting evidence at the hearing, with the Complainant asserting that she was very upset and crying while the management stated that she was not.
On the balance of probability, I find that it would have been most unusual for members of management to ignore her distressed state and request a report from her.
Therefore, I find that the Respondent did not fail in its duty of care to her.
I find that there is no basis for an apology from the company or its two members of management
I find that the Complainant has failed to take on board the four findings in the past and persist with having her position affirmed.
In my opinion it’s time to move on.
Section 13 of the Industrial Relations Acts, 1969 requires that I make a recommendation in relation to the dispute.]
I have considered all the evidence both verbal and written presented at this hearing.
I have decided that this complaint is not well founded for the above stated reasons.
I note that no disciplinary investigation whatsoever has ever been contemplated by the Respondent and they considered the matter closed.
I have decided that this claim fails.
I recommend that the Complainant now accepts that this should conclude the matter that has gone on for four years and to embrace the rest of her life.
Dated: 29 June 2018
Workplace Relations Commission Adjudication Officer: Eugene Hanly
Compensation/Apology for not supporting Worker