First published: May 11th, 2022
Unfair discrimination cases continue to make the news.
One recent case has captured headlines as the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has awarded a record amount of €329,199 for unfair dismissal. This award is more than double the previous record amount awarded by the WRC.
Facts of the case
The employee had been employed by the firm since December 2016 and was promoted to the position of enterprise account executive in April 2019. However, five months after being promoted, he was dismissed on the grounds of serious misconduct after he was accused of bullying.
Two complaints were made against the employee in late May and early June 2019. This led to an investigation and to a disciplinary process where it was claimed that the sales executive had been given “multiple opportunities to improve his behaviour.” However, the employee was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct on the 17th of June 2019. As part of his case, the employee argued that the dismissal was a disproportionate sanction and far too much emphasis was placed on informal emails and discussions instead of formal procedures.
After five days of evidence before the WRC, it was found that, while the employee “did engage in some inappropriate behaviours in his interactions with his two colleagues who made a complaint about him, these fell a long way short of warranting his dismissal in the circumstances.” The WRC Adjudicator highlighted that no formal warning had been issued to the sales executive, and the grounds for dismissal were found to be “unclear.” In addition, the behaviour had taken place during Ramadan, which the claimant was observing. Comments by the WRC Adjudicator suggested that a reasonable employer would have tried to understand if the employee’s observance of Ramadan was causing difficulty for him.
According to the WRC Adjudicator, there was overwhelming evidence to suggest the VP was heavily involved in attempts to manage the employee’s behaviour and could not have been seen as independent in deciding the disciplinary outcome.
The WRC determined that the award of €329,199 was equivalent to 75% of the employee’s financial loss over a two-year period.
Moira Grassick, COO at Peninsula Ireland, says, “This is a timely reminder for employers to ensure they have fair and consistent disciplinary and grievance procedures in place. An employer may find that an employee may raise a grievance during the course of an investigation or disciplinary process, either about the process itself or about some other related or unrelated matter.
“The first step in this scenario is for employers to consult their grievance and disciplinary procedures for guidance on how to handle this matter, as well as to determine which policies and procedures are most appropriate in this situation. Under employment law, all employees must receive and sign off on the company's disciplinary and grievance procedure within 28 days of beginning work.
"Employers can eliminate ambiguity and reduce the risk of unfair dismissal claims by doing this and implementing a formal procedure. In addition, employers must adhere to natural justice principles during a disciplinary process. Failure to do so, as demonstrated by this WRC award, can result in costly claims and reputational damage."
Guide: Disciplinary action at work—law and procedures
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