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WRC Lowered Bar for Employees to Succeed in Constructive Dismissal Claims

Facts: The Complainant was employed as general operative commencing in August 2016. It was alleged that he was subjected to discriminatory behaviour during his employment and the behaviour and attitude of the Manging Director was such that the Complainant was left with no option but to resign from his employment on 4th May 2018.

The Complainant stated that he was asked very unusual questions in relation to his marital status and whether he had any children during the interview for his job in 2016. The MD of the Respondent stated that this was the normal course of chatting in relation to family situations.

The Complainant also alleged that in April 2018 the MD told all the staff to evacuate the building and it was only after a solicitor’s letter to the Respondent that the staff were returned to work and paid for the period of absence. A number of staff issued grievances in relation to this but the Respondent never formally responded to the grievances.

The Complainant also gave evidence that he had heard from a number of staff members that the MD had instructed them to pass off machinery at a trade fair as being Irish made and manufactured, which was untrue.

As stated by the Adjudicator “the final straw” was at a meeting between the Complainant and the MD on the 4th May 2018. The Complainant had been called to the MD’s office and was aggressively questioned in relation to a photograph which had been removed by former member of staff. The Complainant stated that he feared for his safety due to the behaviour and attitude of MD and he walked out of the building. He submitted a letter of resignation through the Office Manager. Later that day the Complainant was contacted by a business advisor of the Respondent and asked to reconsider his resignation, however, when he refused, his resignation was accepted and he was told he would be paid any outstanding money due to him. The Complainant learned that later that day, the Respondent made three other staff redundant.

Decision: The Adjudicator found that the Complainant’s resignation amounted to a constructive dismissal.  The Adjudicator seemed to accept that the incident on 4th May was not of itself sufficient to repudiate the contract of employment. However, he applied the “final straw” test and in doing so the Adjudicator took into consideration actions of the MD that the Complainant was not party to but heard about through his colleagues and which were denied by the MD. The Adjudicator also found that the Complainant’s failure to use the internal grievance process before he resigned was “understandable” due to the lack of response to the previous grievance lodged by a number of employees, regardless of the fact that that grievance had been resolved.

Takeaway for the Employers: We hope that this decision is appealed by the Respondent. In the meantime, this decision makes it imperative for employers to formally respond to all grievances, even when resolved, in order to rely on the internal processes in such cases. The normally high bar for a constructive dismissal claim has been significantly lowered by this decision. 

Link  – https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/cases/2021/june/adj-00016154.html

Authors – Anne O’Connell & Ethna Dillon

2nd July 2021

Anne O’Connell Solicitors

19-22 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2

www.aocsolicitors.ie

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