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Factory worker sacked for bathing feet in canteen tray

An Irish worker was sacked after bathing his feet in a container used for serving food in the factory canteen.

In response, Martin Conroy sued Baxter Healthcare for unfair dismissal at the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). However, the EAT said Baxter was reasonable to find Conroy’s actions amounting to gross misconduct and that they were justified in sacking him.

Doctor’s orders

Conroy started with the firm in 1977 and was accused of washing his feet in a stainless steel tray used by the canteen to serve food. He claimed his doctor had, because of his diabetes, advised him to look after his feet as they could be susceptible to burning and sores.

Conroy told the tribunal that although he bathed his feet while on the job, it was only for medical purposes.

When later questioned, he admitted to washing his feet in the steel bowl but that he washed it thoroughly afterwards with antibacterial washing up liquid.

The employer-employee bond was broken

Baxter wrote to Conroy saying, “The bond of trust and confidence that form the foundation of our relationship with you has been irretrievably broken. We are left with no option other than to terminate your contract of employment”.

The EAT said, “In this case, the tribunal cannot accept that the mitigating factors referred to by the claimant [Conroy], such as his work record, could change the respondent’s [Baxter’s] decision in relation to sanction. The Tribunal is of the opinion that the respondent dealt with the issue fairly and that it was not motivated by any other agenda.”

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In this example, the employer came out on top in the tribunal. But of course, that is not always the case. If you want to ensure you make the right HR decisions every time, sign up to our Advice Line. It provides unlimited telephone and email support. And as long as our advice is followed from the outset, you will be insured against any awards given against you in an employment tribunal.