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One of my close friends has allegedly been fired for "gross misconduct" via breach of privacy with no prior warning nor issues.

The company's (a big american pharmaceutical) HR has investigated their phone, with consent, and was unable to find anything.

They were working under an interim agency, if that might help. We are living in Ireland currently, where they got fired.

To me, that looks like unfair dismissal, although I might be wrong. Case being, is there any point in actually fighting back against the company HR? My friend is not in a financial situation to hire an attorney, sadly. Not for now at least.

closed as off-topic by Dan Pichelman, Philipp, David K, Mister Positive, sf02 Feb 12 at 16:10

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    How confident are you that your friend has told you everything that transpired in the investigation? It could be possible that something was unearthed that nobody has shared, or wants to share. – user34587 Feb 12 at 15:38
  • I am confident they are truthful as their supervisor also had a testimony in their favor, afaik. The interim agency also gave them a positive reference for a job search. – Hydre Hydreigon Feb 12 at 15:42
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    Without the details of the dismissal it is difficult to help. – sf02 Feb 12 at 15:48
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    Without specific details this is going to be difficult to answer. "Gross misconduct" is legitimate grounds for dismissing someone without prior notice - if there's an answer that will help your friend it's going to be based on what the employer has alleged they did, whether they did it, and whether it constitutes Gross Misconduct. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Feb 12 at 15:50
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    Seeking legal options in your area ( Ireland ) is probably the best bet here. – Mister Positive Feb 12 at 16:10
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As an agency worker the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012 means that the hirer (in this case the Pharmaceutical company) is considered to be their "employer" for Unfair Dismissal purposes.

It's actually quite difficult in Ireland to dismiss for Gross Misconduct - the company needs substantial grounds to do so. Breach of privacy in a health context could easily qualify but they would have to have some very solid grounds that such a breach had actually occurred.

Of course it's not all good news - if your friend has less than 52 weeks continuous "employment" with the company then they can't got for unfair dismissal unless they have been terminated for one of the following reasons:

  • employees who have been dismissed for trade union membership,
  • pregnancy,
  • exercising their right to maternity leave, ante-natal, post natal related matters,
  • employees dismissed for exercising rights to parental leave or carer’s leave.

They're going to need an employment solicitor to assess this for a more accurate read of course (not a randomer on the internet!)

  • So, basically, retaliation or discrimination? – EJoshuaS Feb 12 at 17:33
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The company's (a big American pharmaceutical) HR has investigated their phone, with consent, and was unable to find anything.

They don't need consent. Company laptops, phones, etc. are company property and can be investigated at any time, for any reason, with or without consent or notice. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in this case.

Case being, is there any point in actually fighting back against the company HR?

This really depends on your jurisdiction and your exact relationship with them. In most jurisdictions, you can sue for being fired for illegal reasons (e.g. discrimination, retaliation, etc.).

Depending on the exact circumstances, you might be able to sue for slander. Obviously, that assumes that a) the accusations were false and b) someone involved actually knew that the accusations were false. You'd have to talk to an attorney about that, though.

If you were, for some reason (company policy, union membership, employee of certain government agencies, etc.), entitled to a hearing prior to being dismissed, you may be able to demand that as well. You could also check to see if there's some kind of appeals process or a way of demanding a hearing within the company itself.

If none of those apply (slander, discrimination, retaliation, right to demand a hearing) and you were an at-will employee, there may or may not be all that much you can do about it. Your best bet could be to check with an attorney to see if they violated any labor laws in your jurisdiction.

This is, of course, assuming that the charges against your friend are, in fact, false. It seems at least mildly strange that the H.R. investigation found nothing, but they fired this individual anyway. Is there any possibility that there's more to the story than you're aware of?

  • Thanks for the thorough comment. After talking with them, another person got fired on the same ground at the same time. It also appears that other people in the specific work line got replaced/fired and they were offering people to leave... as I said, I do not know everything about it though. – Hydre Hydreigon Feb 12 at 16:08
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    @HydreHydreigon That is a little odd... I wonder if they were trying to pass off layoffs as misconduct or something. (If so, I assume that there'd be some basis for some kind of legal action based on fraud or something, but I'm not a lawyer). – EJoshuaS Feb 12 at 16:15
  • It wasn't necessarily a company phone. Lots of people bring their personal phones to work, and very often their phone gets no connection with the company network (I do use company electricity for mine, and that's it). There's no particular reason why my phone couldn't have confidential company information on it, so in cases of suspected misconduct the company might want to search it, and I might allow it. – David Thornley Feb 12 at 18:34

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