Telecommunications firm ordered to pay €50k to office manager for unfair dismissal

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ordered a telecommunications firm to pay €50,000 to an office manager for her unfair dismissal.

WRC Adjudication Officer in the case, Valerie Murtagh found that the firm moved “very hastily” to dismiss the office manager after she made a bullying complaint against a work colleague, a Ms P.

The office manager alleged at the WRC that she was subjected to vociferous hostile treatment from Ms P who formerly acted as personal assistant to the CEO and currently occupies a different role.

The office manager made her first complaints on May 19/20, 2018 and she was told on May 22, 2018 by the firm’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) that her role was being made redundant due to changes in another of the company's offices.

At the meeting, the CFO told the office manager “sorry it has come to this”.

In her findings, Ms Murtagh concluded that the bullying complaint impacted on the telecommunications firm taking swift action to affect the office manager’s dismissal from the company “and thereby nullifying the complaints of bullying”.

Ms Murtagh concluded that the process adopted by the employer “was unfair, unreasonable and disproportionate” and coupled with this, the hastiness of the employer “in affecting a swift dismissal leads me to conclude that the dismissal was unfair”.

Ms Murtagh said that she accepted the points made by the employer over the downsizing of the business in Dublin.

However, Ms Murtagh found that the dismissal by reason of redundancy “was procedurally unfair and therefore has rendered the dismissal unfair”.

Ms Murtagh also found the redundancy process “was flawed on a procedural basis and poorly handled by management”.

Ms Murtagh found that a reasonable employer would not have behaved in the manner in which the firm carried out the dismissal in this case.

Ms Murtagh found that “the redundancy consultation process was not a genuine one in circumstances where the outcome had been predetermined one month earlier”.

The office manager alleged that she was dismissed on foot of a sham redundancy process engineered by her employer in order to achieve a pre-determined outcome.

The firm strenuously denied this and told the WRC hearing that it had been impacted by the well-documented restructuring of a connected firm that has seen its global number of employees significantly reduced.

The firm stated that over the last 18 months, it has seen the number of people operating from its Dublin office more than halved.

The company maintained that the departures from the Dublin office have included all of the senior management executives who are now based internationally.

The firm stated that having regard to the reduction in the number of employees in the Dublin office; the departure of almost all of its senior manager executives to other countries and the diminished role of the Dublin office in the provision of the company’s day-to-day business services, the office manager’s role became redundant.

The company contended that the office manager made a series of baseless allegations against the firm when alleging she was dismissed on foot of a conspiracy and sham redundancy process orchestrated in response to a dispute between the complainant and Ms P on May 18, 2018.

The firm submitted that she persisted with that claim in the face of documentary evidence that the restructuring that gave rise to her position being made redundant was discussed in April 2018 and was recorded in writing to be as a result of the “closure of the Dublin office”.

The firm stated that when the complainant gave evidence of the supposed bullying of her by Ms P on 18 May 2018, it was the office manager’s conduct rather than Ms P’s that was unreasonable.

The firm stated that it engaged in a reasonable and appropriate redundancy process and that there was no animus against the office manager.

In her findings, Ms Murtagh stated that the office move was not impending at the time of the dismissal and the break in the lease had not yet been negotiated and it transpired that the move did not take place until October 2018, almost five months after the dismissal.

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