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€104,000 awarded to Employee for Unfair Dismissal due to Employer’s Conduct

The Complainant was employed as the Operations Director for the Respondent and had been employed by the Respondent for 26 years. The Complainant had a close personal relationship with Mr C, the owner and knew him for about 31 years and he was the godfather of the Complainant’s only daughter.

Facts

For the first 10 years the Complainant and Mr C ran the business together with some involvement from Mr C’s brother. The business was small bar originally but over the years it grew into a large business running bars, a hotel and spas, apartments and restaurants. In more recent years the business acquired several premises in salubrious areas of the North side of Dublin and the Complainant was involved in the purchase, setting up of and running of those new businesses. She was also the interior designer in relation to the apartments that had been purchased.

In March 2018 the business had a difficult month and the working relationship between the Complainant and Mr C became quite strained. There were public objections to one of the businesses on the North side and they were also over budget on the project. When the business opened it did well for a period of time but then revenue started to drop. The Complainant was not too concerned about this and felt that it was quite normal for a new business. Mr C got very annoyed and demanded an explanation from her as to why this was happening. The Complainant, along with Mr C’s son, Mr C Jr, stated that they would monitor the situation closely for a 3 week period and would report back to Mr C. About a week later Mr C came to see the Complainant and the Complainant knew Mr C was in bad form. He was very angry and aggressive with her and said “I thought you were going to fucking report to me daily.” The Complainant explained that the agreement was that she would come to him with an update after monitoring the situation for 3 weeks. The Respondent did not take this well and responded saying “what are you fucking going to do about it. We have spent so much fucking money on this place, what are you going to fucking do about it?” The Complainant said that they needed a new General Manager and that she felt she needed a holiday as she was exhausted. Mr C responded by saying “well fucking go now, get the fuck out of here. Get the fuck out of my car now.” The Complainant became terribly upset.

The Complainant took a holiday following this incident but upon her return she found that she was being slowly pushed out of the company; her wages were cut, her calls were being ignored and Mr C told her that she was “passed it” and had “lost her grip on everything”. At this point the Complainant wanted to work on an exit strategy. The relationship between the Complainant and Mr C significantly deteriorated over the following months and the Complainant’s duties were stripped from her and she was now operating her office from the boot of her car as she had nowhere left to go. Between December 2018 and July 2019 both Mr C and Mr C Jr made the Complainant’s life extremely difficult with Mr C completely ignoring her and only responding to essential emails with one word answers like “yes, no, proceed”.

In July 2019 the Complainant went on a holiday and on the day she returned she was told by Mr C that her position was redundant. When the Complainant tried to argue her case she was told “you’re going” and he offered her €30,000 plus her car and he then said “why would you want all this hassle at your age?” The Complainant asked for 4 weeks to think about it and Mr C laughed and told her she had a week. One week later they met again and the first question Mr C asked was if the Complainant was taking the offer. She said no and Mr C got up and left immediately, accusing the Complainant of wasting his time. The Complainant was distraught and the next day she wrote him a heartfelt email as she felt this was her last chance to get through to Mr C.  He called her and asked to meet and having got some advice from Peninsula he was willing and able to take the hit of two years of her salary adding that lawyers were very expensive and he would drag it out for over a year. He then offered her €60,000 and asked what it would take her to leave. She responded with €150,000 and explained how she got to that figure. Mr C responded with “worst case scenario for me is two years and I am willing to take the hit. I am going to fire you tomorrow and you won’t be working out your notice. Give me your phone and car keys”. When the Complainant asked how she would get home, he said “I didn’t care”.

The following day Mr C contacted the Complainant and they met at one of the businesses on the North side at the Complainant’s request. Mr C brought a proposed settlement agreement with him and a letter detailing the redundancy package. The Complainant did not sign the agreement and was horrified when she read the termination letter as it gave the reason for her termination was because she lacked capacity.

The Respondent did not contest that the dismissal was unfair but instead emphasised that the Complainant did not make a sufficient effort to mitigate her financial loss. The Complainant stated that she was not working at the moment but she was doing a two year I.T. course. She is registered with an agency and would take up employment if she got it. She stated that she felt she had a lot of work to do on herself as her confidence had taken a hammering from the treatment she received from the Respondent.  

Decision and take away for employers

The Adjudicator, Niamh O’Carroll Kelly took into consideration the uncontested evidence of the Complainant and the Respondent’s cross examination in relation to mitigation of loss and she was satisfied that no procedures were followed by the Respondent and Mr C tried to exploit the personal relationship between himself and the Complainant. When assessing the appropriate level of compensation award, the Adjudicator took into account the conduct of the Respondent towards the Complainant which resulted in her needing sufficient time to recover before being fit to take up employment. The Adjudicator was also of the view that as the Complainant had only ever worked for the Respondent without any skills training during her employment that she was entitled to do the training course in line with professional advice which the Complainant had received. She also took into account the Respondent’s lack of any disciplinary process and/or application of natural justice and fair procedures. The Adjudicator awarded the Complainant the maximum award of 104 weeks’ of remuneration equalling €104,000.

This high award by the WRC highlights the importance of following fair procedures when terminating an employee but it also gives a value to offering outsource training to employees at the time of termination.

Link: https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/cases/2020/may/adj-00025595.html

Authors – Anne O’Connell & Eva Lindsay

2nd June 2020

Anne O’Connell Solicitors

Fitzwilliam Hall

Fitzwilliam Place

Dublin 2

www.aocsolicitors.ie

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