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Labour Court Overturned The WRC Decision And Held That The Employee’s Termination Was Not Due To Redundancy

Background: Ms Elaine Ball (the Complainant/Appellant) was employed by MF Kentz Ireland Limited (which is a part of SNC-Lavalin Engineering & Construction Ireland Limited – the Respondent) as its Financial Controller for approximately 17 years and included payroll process as her overall responsibility. On 14th June 2017, the Respondent’s Senior Vice President advised all employees of finance section that their roles were at risk of redundancy. During the second meeting on 22nd June 2017, he notified the group that there would be a need for 3 staff and advised them that all employees were eligible to apply for the roles. On 27th June 2017, the Complainant was told at another meeting that her role was being made redundant and was handed Employee Information sheet that detailed her statutory redundancy and the sum that she would receive, which was €31,930.67. The Complainant received a further email on 30th June 2017 that a meeting was organised on 15th September where she would be provided with all confirmed redundancy payment details.

On 12th October 2017, the Respondent noticed that there was a discrepancy between amounts being paid to pensions provider on Complainant’s behalf, which prompted a review of Complainant’s payslips for the period 2010-2017, which concluded that there were apparent shortfall in deductions from Complainant’s salary amounting to approximately €50,000. The Complainant was informed of this early October and she went on stress-related sick leave from 24th October 2017.  A disciplinary hearing was scheduled for 24th November 2017, which was postponed twice on Complainant’s request. On 1st December, the Respondent wrote to the Complainant to apply for illness benefit and that it would continue to pay the difference amount. The Respondent further advised that she attend the occupational health assessment.

The Complainant filed a WRC Complaint on 18th December 2017. She claimed that the meeting of 15th September did not occur and hence her redundancy status was unclear. The Respondent wrote again on 9th January 2018 rescheduling the Disciplinary Meeting on 17th January and further advised her that the meeting would go ahead in her absence. The Complainant and her solicitors were notified on 19th January that she was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct. The Complainant appealed the decision. An appeal hearing was conducted on 29th March 2018. The Respondent sought clarification on a number of issues but no response was received. The appeal upheld the decision.

The Complainant claimed that the Respondent had issued a definitive notice of termination of her employment by way of redundancy effective 31st December 2017. She further claimed that her absence at the disciplinary meeting was due to the state of her mental health. The Respondent countered that the Employee Information document was indicative only of the payments should the Complainant still be in service of 31st December 2017 and that the Complainant’s employment was not terminated by reason of redundancy on 31st December or on any date.

The Adjudication Officer held that the Complainant was unfairly dismissed and awarded a sum of €6,680. The Complainant appealed this decision to the Labour Court.

Decision and Determination: The Labour Court (the “Court”) noted that while the Complainant had very strong views about the meetings and the documentation received, she did not satisfactorily give any explanation as to why she filed a WRC Complaint on 18th December, which was less than 2 weeks from the date of her asserted termination. The Court found that Complainant did not provide sufficient evidence that her role was made redundant. The Court further held that her employment was not terminated by reason of redundancy on 31st December 2017 but was terminated for gross misconduct on 19th January 2018. The Court set aside the decision of the WRC in its entirety. 

Takeaway for employers: This decision shows the relevance of following the company policies and procedures and maintaining transparency in communicating the decisions to the employees. The employer in this instance communicated clearly to the employee that the disciplinary hearing would be heard in the employee’s absence after giving her amble opportunity to attend previously scheduled hearing dates. The Employee could not hence, object to the fact that a disciplinary hearing was heard in her absence.

Link  – https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/cases/2021/march/udd2119.html

Authors – Anne O’Connell & Chaitra Girish Mallya

27th April 2021

Anne O’Connell Solicitors

19-22 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2


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