€160k for unfair dismissal of ‘loyal’ worker

An office manager who was wrongly portrayed as “an employee from hell” by her employer has been awarded €159,705 for being unfairly dismissed.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) made the award, one of its highest to date, for the office manager’s sacking in July of last year.

The woman had been unstintingly loyal to her employer — a small family-run drugs company — for more than 30 years.

However, her work-life deteriorated after her boss died and his wife took an active role in the day-to-day running of the business.

The adjudication officer in the case, Michael Hayes, said that “it is simply not credible that the complainant turned into the employee from hell, as submitted by the respondent, having given 30 years of unimpeachable service, to the point at which it is alleged she acted in such an offensive and reprehensible manner”.

In the ruling, and to avoid any doubt about the scale of the award, Mr Hayes spells out the figure when he writes that the employer pay the woman “€159,705 (say one hundred and fifty nine thousand, seven hundred and five euro) in compensation”.

No parties are named in the ruling, and the woman has been given the award under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, which penalises employers who unfairly dismiss employees.

In her complaint, the woman said that she helped the widow of her late boss in running the business, “but, despite [her] best effort, she found her working relationship with the now major shareholder difficult”.

The employee shared her misgivings with the widow’s son, himself a director of the company, but no action was forthcoming.

Accordingly, due to the unhappy working environment and the effect on her health, she said that she was left with no alternative but to lodge a formal grievance in the matter, ranging from complaints of a bullying nature to issues regarding the safety of the work environment.

As a result, the woman was summarily dismissed from her employment, by letter, on July 11, 2016.

The woman claimed that she was penalised in breach of Section 27 (2) and (3) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, which offers protections to workers who are unfairly dismissed and penalises employers.

In response, the woman’s employer claimed that she was not penalised under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, but, rather, as a consequence of a breakdown in the relationship between her and the principal employer in the small family-run business.

The firm stated that the late owner’s widow “found the complainant to be difficult to manage and increasingly unco-operative”.

The firm alleged that the office manager “took long breaks and her attendance practices became increasingly unacceptable” and that her “expectations in respect of annual leave were unreasonable and she refused to engage with the principal employer to constructively address operational issues”.

The employer also alleged that the woman “was defensive and argumentative and a very bad atmosphere developed, which worsened after December 2015”.

In his ruling, Mr Hayes said that he found it significant that the dismissal was effected within two weeks of the date on the letter of complaint from the office manager.

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