A receptionist at a veterinary practice in the west of Ireland has been awarded €15,600 after claiming that she was dismissed from her job by the practice owner for reporting that a vet at the practice had stolen money from the till.

A Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruling stated that when the receptionist - known as the complainant in this case - first met her employer, the practice owner - the respondent - in August 2021, he told her that he’d had difficulties in the past about cash going missing at the practice and that it was a concern for him.

The respondent owns two vet practices - his main practice and a smaller practice. The receptionist worked in the smaller practice, where there were only two staff on duty at any one time; a receptionist and a vet.

'Careful with money'

The receptionist assured him that she was very careful with money and that she would make sure the tills balanced every day.

In September 2021, the receptionist noticed that cash was missing from the till and receipts and cash did not tally.

“After that, she started double printing the receipts. She told the respondent that she was doing this because she was worried that he thought it might be her. The complainant knew that the only other person who had access to the till was the vet.”

When the receptionist spoke to the practice owner, he said that he knew that it had been going on. He thanked her for letting him know.

On her next working day, she found that the vet had completely changed his attitude towards her and refused to engage with her in the practice. She became worried that the practice owner had told the vet that she had reported him.

Medication

Later, the receptionist noticed that animal medication was going off the shelf too quickly and the till receipts didn’t balance.

She suggested to the practice owner that she do a stock take and he agreed, but in response to this, the vet told her that she was looking for trouble.

On 16 December, the receptionist caught the vet selling animal medication to a customer, but then putting the cash into his own wallet instead of the till.

“The cost of the medication was €60 or €70, but there was only €10 put into the till, the rest went into the vet’s wallet. She saw him doing this and asked him straight away what he was doing.

“He said he was just getting change. He then took €50 out of his wallet and threw it towards the complainant and said 'you don’t know the amount of s**t you just got yourself into',” the WRC ruling says.

However, the receptionist knew that there was enough change in the till that day because she’d seen it that morning.

“So given this very obvious suspicious behaviour and given the fact that the respondent had told her on the first day that she met him that he was concerned about theft, the complainant felt obliged to report this to the respondent,” the ruling says.

The receptionist went outside and telephoned the practice owner and told him what had happened and he said that he knew about this.

"He said that there was nothing he could do because he couldn’t get a replacement vet because they’re very hard to find in that area,” the WRC ruling said.

Difficult

The working environment for the receptionist became very difficult.

“At one stage, the complainant became upset and the vet said 'go outside and cry little girl'. At that, the complainant went outside and rang the respondent,” the WRC said.

On 31 December 2021, after Christmas, the receptionist received a phone call from the practice owner, who told her that it wasn’t going to work out between her and the vet, that one of them had to go, and that the respondent had decided that it was the vet who needed to stay working.

“The complainant asked them why she was being dismissed when she hadn’t done anything wrong and all that she done was to try to let him know what was happening underneath his nose.

“However, he just repeated that it just wasn’t going to work out between them and that she would have to get a new job,” it added.

Ruling

In its ruling, the WRC adjudicator said they were satisfied that had she not reported the theft to her employer, she would not have been dismissed from her role.

“Taking into account all the circumstances, I consider that a just and reasonable award is 1.5 years of salary, based on a two-day working week, ie €15,600,” it ruled.

It also awarded the receptionist €480 for an annual leave complaint, €100 for working on Christmas Day for which she was not paid and €800 for not being provided with a written contract of statement regarding her contractual terms.

The practice owner conceded at the first hearing that no written contract was issued to the complainant and he denied all other complaints. He confirmed he wanted the second hearing to proceed in his absence and did not want it to be adjourned.