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Dental Practice Manager awarded €15,000 for “Cruel” Unfair Dismissal

In Zsuzsanna Budai v Acd Practice Management Ltd (Ardum Clinic) ADJ-00037391, the Complainant, Ms Budai, bought a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission (the “WRC”) that she was unfairly dismissed from her employment in the Respondent dental practice. The Complainant further claimed that she did not receive her full salary in December 2021, and that she did not receive her statutory notice pay. The WRC Adjudicator, Lefre de Burgh, upheld all three of the Complainant’s claims, awarding her a total of €19,030. There was no attendance at the hearing on behalf of the Respondent.

Facts: The Complainant was employed by the Respondent as a practice manager/receptionist. She worked in the practice from 2013 and worked for the Respondent from 2016 after a TUPE process. The new owner of the practice, Dr Borbala Csordas, had worked in the practice as a dentist before she bought the business and the Complainant told the WRC that she had a good relationship with her prior to her dismissal in December 2021. The Complainant received a pay rise, Christmas bonuses, and even a staff holiday paid for by the Respondent.

However, the Complainant told the WRC that she felt that Dr Csordas became stressed and burnt out as she was regularly out sick from work. This had a negative effect on the business’s finances. Towards the end of her employment, the Complainant was sometimes paid late, or not paid the full amount that was owed to her. Other staff members left the practice, partly due to the financial difficulties of the business, however the Complainant said she was doing her best to assist Dr Csordas during this time.

On 7th December 2021, the Complainant was told by Dr Csordas that she may not be able to afford a receptionist from January and then became verbally abusive towards the Complainant. The Complainant was shocked by this as she had not experienced this treatment from Dr Csordas before. She asked the Respondent if she was fired. The Complainant said there was “no discussion” and this was the only conversation that took place around the termination of her employment. Furthermore, the Complainant’s final payment of wages was €750 less than expected, as she had been told she would be paid up to 31st December. The Complainant also did not receive notice pay, either her statutory notice or the “extra month” that Dr Csordas told her she would receive.

The Complainant told the WRC how unexpected and upsetting the Respondent’s behaviour towards her was. At the time of the hearing, she was working in a different dental practice after receiving Jobseeker’s Benefit for a period of three weeks.

Decision: The Adjudicator noted that there was no appearance on behalf of the Respondent at the hearing and was satisfied that the Respondent was properly on notice of the hearing. The WRC received an email on the morning of the hearing from an individual describing himself as the company secretary of the Respondent company stating that Dr Csordas could not attend the hearing due to illness. No supporting documentation was provided to the WRC.

The Adjudicator then proceeded to consider the Complainant’s claim, noting that the burden of proof in Unfair Dismissal claims rests on the employer. The Adjudicator referred to the following passage from the Labour Court decision in Beechside Company Ltd t/a Park Hotel Kenmare and A Worker LCR211798 :

The Court has consistently held the view that it is imperative that an employer in a dismissal case must not only show that there were substantial grounds justifying the dismissal but also that fair and proper procedures were followed before the dismissal takes place. This requirement of procedural fairness is rooted in the common law concept of natural justice.”

The Adjudicator found that the dismissal was both substantively and procedurally unfair. He noted that the Complainant had no opportunity to engage with the Respondent and found that the Respondent had failed to comply with the “minimal requirements” of the Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures (S.I. No. 146/2000). The Complainant was completely taken aback by Dr Csordas’s outburst towards her, particularly in circumstances where she had previously been told by her that she was happy with her work and had been awarded a pay rise.

The Adjudicator was satisfied that the appropriate remedy in this case was compensation. The Adjudicator praised the Complainant for significantly mitigating her losses almost immediately after her employment was terminated, and noted the difficult situation that the Complainant was put in during the weeks before Christmas following her “cruel” treatment by the Respondent. The Complainant was awarded €15,000 in respect of her Unfair Dismissal complaint.

The Adjudicator also upheld the Complainant’s complaint in relation to Payment of Wages Acts and the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment legislation, awarding her €815 and €3,215 respectively.

Takeaway for Employers: The facts of this case demonstrate a blatant failure to comply with even the most basic procedural requirements in terminating an employee’s employment. While this case is an extreme example of procedural unfairness (based on the Complainant’s uncontroverted evidence), it serves as an important reminder to employers to ensure that dismissals are both substantively and procedurally fair. This includes situations where a business may be in financial difficulty and an employer may need to consider potential redundancies. Employers must exercise caution and ensure that they are in a position to demonstrate to the WRC that they acted fairly and reasonably and that employees were afforded fair procedures before a decision was made to terminate employment.

Link-  https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/cases/2023/august/adj-00037391.html

Authors – Jane Holian, Jenny Wakely, Anne O’Connell

4th September 2023

Anne O’Connell Solicitors

19-22 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2


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