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Unfair Dismissal Decision Reiterates the Importance of Fair Procedures

Facts: The case of Fit4Life Gym v Megan Healy[1] was an appeal to the Labour Court from a Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) decision awarding the Complainant compensation of €21,736 for unfair dismissal. At the time of her dismissal, the Complainant was earning €416.00 per week.

The Complainant had been a manager at a gym for just over one year. The Respondent submitted that she was dismissed due to ongoing issues, including issues relating to her failing to turn up for work, and issues regarding the provision of physical therapy services by her in a personal capacity on company premises and invoicing for same on company paper. On 29th February 2020, the Complainant failed to attend the gym to open up and was dismissed later that day. She was sent a letter informing her that she was dismissed and would be paid two weeks’ pay in lieu of notice. The letter informed her that there was no right of appeal and that she was required to return her keys and uniform.

However, evidence was given on behalf of the Respondent that, upon receiving HR advice, a further letter was subsequently sent to the Complainant setting out various issues of concern and informing her that her actions amounted to gross misconduct. This letter also informed the Complainant that she could appeal the decision to dismiss her to the author of both letters, Ms Myers, one of the owners of the gym. During cross-examination, Ms Myers accepted that she had made the decision to dismiss the Complainant and that any appeal was to be addressed to her. However, she informed the Court that the intention was to have an independent party hear any appeal, but this was not communicated to the Complainant. The Complainant did not appeal. It was clear from the evidence that there were a number of procedural failures and in fact no process appears to have been followed.

It was argued on behalf of the Respondent that, notwithstanding some procedural shortcomings, the Complainant’s dismissal was fair. It was argued that a “reasonable employer” would have dismissed the Complainant in the circumstances and that a failure to follow procedures does not automatically make a dismissal unfair. Counsel for the Respondent referred to Redmond on Dismissal at paragraph 13.20 as follows:

“[P]rocedural defects will not make a dismissal automatically unfair. The legitimacy of the processes adopted by an employer may be subordinated to the substantive merits of a particular case. An employer may be able to justify a procedural omission if it meets the onus of providing that, despite the omission it acted reasonably in the circumstances in deciding to dismiss the employee.”

The Complainant argued that there had been no disciplinary action against her during her employment and the Respondent was unable to provide any proof of any disciplinary process having been followed or having occurred at all. She told the Court that she was not originally rostered to work on 29th February and that, once she noticed that she had been added to the roster, she requested the time off due to a long-standing appointment. No approval for this time off was communicated to her, but she did not attend work that day.

The Complainant gave evidence that she had suffered 10 months’ loss of wages as gyms were not hiring in 2020 due to Covid-19. She provided proof of mitigation of her loss and was in fact employed at a higher salary from January 2021.  

Decision: The failure by the Respondent to afford the Complainant an opportunity to be heard or to follow any process deprived her of a fair procedure. The Court found that her dismissal was unfair. However, the Court reduced the award to account for the Complainant’s own actions in contributing to her dismissal. The award was therefore reduced to €13,800.

Takeaway for Employers: This case emphasises the importance of fair procedures in addressing disciplinary issues, particularly where dismissal is a potential outcome of a disciplinary process. While it is sometimes possible to rectify certain procedural issues by way of appeal, there had been a complete absence of any disciplinary process in this case, and the Respondent’s offer of an appeal appeared only to afford the Complainant an opportunity of appealing to the very party who made the decision to dismiss her.

Link  – https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/cases/2022/july/udd2241.html

Authors – Nicola MacCarthy, Jenny Wakely and Anne O’Connell

8th August 2022

[1] UDD2241.

Anne O’Connell Solicitors

19-22 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2


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