Derek Achong

The Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre has been ordered to pay $700,000 in compensation to a former long-standing worker, who was improperly forced to resign over an unproven theft allegation.

In a 20-page judgment, Industrial Court judges Melvin Daniel, Gregory Rousseau and Neil Mohammed ruled that the popular hotel’s decision with respect to the worker, whose name was withheld by this newspaper based on the sensitive nature of the case, was harsh, oppressive, and contrary to the basic and fundamental principles of good and proper industrial relations.

According to the evidence presented in the case, when the worker reported for duty on August 25, 2015, she was called into a meeting with the hotel’s chief security officer and human resource officer.

The worker, who had been employed with the company for over 31 years, was informed that there was footage of her collecting money from a guest and failing to subsequently make a bill for the said guest.

The worker denied any wrongdoing and claimed that sometimes while she was serving more than one customer, she would collect the cash from one customer, serve another, and then return with the bill for the first customer.

The hotel’s officials maintained their position and threatened to have police officers arrest her at her home if she did not resign.

The worker attempted to leave to contact her representative from the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) but the door was locked and she was told she could only do so after resigning. She complied.

In the judgment, the court questioned why the hotel’s officials gave the worker an ultimatum with industrial relations consequences while they were investigating a criminal matter.

“This fundamental breach is further compounded by the fact that the company produced absolutely no evidence compelling or otherwise that establishes that this worker stole one cent from the company,” Rousseau said, as he noted that the allegation against the worker came from a bartender, who was caught stealing and resigned.

The court also strongly criticised the hotel for its and its staff’s conduct describing it as very disturbing.

“Workers who are the subject of allegations of misconduct are entitled to a fair hearing, and if found guilty, such a worker may be subjected to appropriate disciplinary action…It is unacceptable for an employer to induce or to use threats of any kind in pursuit of what should have been an industrial relations styled investigation,” Rousseau said.

In assessing the appropriate compensation for the worker, the court considered her long and unblemished service; the wages and benefits she lost and stands to lose going forward; and the harsh and oppressive nature of her termination.

The hotel was represented by attorney Derek Ali.