I've been working in a tiny print studio for the last two years, there's only three of us, the boss, myself and another coworker. I've worked three or four days a week from the start depending on how busy it is, I freelance as a graphic designer the other days of the week.
It's a pretty unconventional work place, there isn't really any boss/employee dynamic and we see each other outside of work as well, it's always felt more like friends working together. It's only a part time job but it's such a big part of my life I moved back in with my parents to be closer to the studio.
I like to think I'm a good employee, able to come in at a moments notice, working even when my dad was in the hospital, staying until 9 or 10 at night sometimes and working a lot of unpaid hours to help out my coworker when it was busy. I've been doing graphic designs jobs for my boss for the last year or so as well, I only get paid a little more than minimum wage which is about a tenth of what I charge my other clients but I've never really minded since I enjoyed working there.
Long story short, my boss was away for a couple months on annual leave so I was working in the studio by myself. My sister has a tiny Etsy shop where she sells homemade earrings, she couldn't afford business cards and begged me to print off a few at the studio. I designed them at home and printed them in my own time using scrap card. In hindsight I definitely should've asked my boss first, that's completely on me, but it was a 10 minute job and she'd always allowed me to print personal things before. She was also on a boat at the time with spotty reception.
Fast forward to today, she's been acting weird for the last month or so, being really stand offish and straight up ignoring me at times. I didn't think much of it, assumed she was going through something personal. She asks me to come into work early, I do and she greets me like normal, asks how my weekend was etc., then she asks if she can look at my keys so I give them to her. She comes back and that's when she tells me she knows i've printed those business cards. I had no idea what she was talking about, I'd forgotten all about them, but then she confronts me with the 'evidence'. A print list that said a file had been printed that she didn't recognise, she had also ordered a pair of my sisters earrings under a presumably false name to compare the card stock of the business card that came with them with the card we have in the studio. She took my keys to the studio and said I wouldn't be getting a reference because I'd stolen from her.
I'm assuming this means I'm fired but I've had zero notice, I know what I did was wrong and I apologised profusely but I don't know what to do next, do I ask for my P45? I'm hesitant to contact her since the whole situation has shaken me quite badly. Any advice would be very much appreciated.
Based on the information you've provided, you would have a slam dunk unfair dismissal case against your former employer.
While you might have done something wrong, you still have a statutory right to be brought through some form of process before being dismissed (ie investigation, right to be told of the complaint, disciplinary meeting with an opportunity to put forward your side of the story, appeal etc etc). I recommend you get yourself to a good solicitor or go to the Workplace Relations Commission website for more info.
Citizens information would be best. But do you have a contract ? Quite certain she would have to go through a warning system first. How long ago did you print those cards? Seems like she was holding on to it as an excuse to let you go.
It's always been a very informal workplace so that might be why she didn't take the proper steps, I'll have a look at that website, thank you.
Were you paid a weekly wage or was it as you described with others you do work for, freelance?
Regardless of how informal it is, she still has certain statutory obligations towards her employees. You should have been given a disciplinary policy on commencement on employment and that policy should have been followed in effecting your dismissal.
If you don't have a contract then you can also bring a claim under the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 (info also on the WRC website).
While you might have done something wrong, the punishment doesn't really seem to fit the crime in this case.
I do have a contract, I printed the cards maybe six weeks ago? I don't know why she'd want to fire me for another reason, she'd be very hard pressed to find someone else to do that level of graphic design work that cheap.
No warning, disciplinary meeting etc required for stealing (gross misconduct), unless OP denies any knowledge of the theft.
Request P45 from employer
Are you paid a wage/salary, and receive payslips, and a p60, or do you send her an invoice?
The fact that you're unsure if you have even been fired would suggest that you're not actually an employee, but a freelancer who had access to her office and equipment? If you are an employee she would have to issue you with a P45 if you were let go.
I think this is key. It's not stealing if you have permission to do it.
The argument could be made that "stealing" might fall under gross misconduct and I don't think would require any investigation process or notice.
Still though, I'd definitely be seeking legal advice.
OP, has the boss actually told you she's firing you?
That's incorrect. Employees are still entitled to be brought through a process in cases of gross misconduct. An employer can impose dismissal as a sanction following the process but you can't just approach an employe without giving him any notice of the meeting, put the allegations to him and then fire him. The employee is entitled to time to prepare a response, to bring someone along with him to the meeting etc.