Former Novartis employee awarded €40,000 for unfair dismissal

An employee of a drug company has been awarded compensation of €40,000 after a tribunal ruled he had been unfairly dismissed.

Derek Coughlan of Ballinbrittig, Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, had taken his case to the Employment Appeals Tribunal after being let go by Novartis Ringaskiddy Ltd in April, 2013.

A sitting of the tribunal late last year heard Mr Coughlan had started work with Novartis as an operative on a drug project on a four-month contract in May 2011. At the time, the drug was undergoing clinical tests.

He was one of more than 60 temporary workers taken on by Novartis over this period and his contract included a clause excluding the operation of the Unfair Dismissals Acts.

At the end of his contract there was still uncertainty over the approval of the drug, so he was employed on a specific performance contract, again excluding liability under the Unfair Dismissals Acts.

In December 2011, Mr Coughlan sustained injuries at work when he fell off a ladder, but the full extent of his injuries was not immediately evident.

In March, 2013 he initiated a personal injuries action against Novartis.

As the trials of the drug were not successful, Mr Coughlan and two others were selected for redundancy. When told of the decision, he was not given any specifics as to why he had been chosen.

A confirmation letter said redundancy was due to the introduction and launch of the drug being delayed because of regulatory issues.

However, in its evidence to the tribunal, the company said failure to perform as expected was the reason he had been laid off.

Mr Coughlan told the tribunal the first he had heard of performance issues was at the hearing and also pointed out he had longer service than many other temporary employees.

The tribunal, in its determination of the case which has now been published, said there was no clear evidence of a winding-down of the drug production at the time of Mr Coughlan’s dismissal.

It suggested the real reason for the termination of his employment was that he did not meet the standard of performance — and as such the tribunal’s jurisdiction was not precluded.

It ruled his performance had been compromised by his work accident and noted the company had not raised his performance as an issue with him, thus depriving him of an opportunity to deal with it.

In the circumstances, the dismissal was unfair and it considered compensation to be the appropriate redress.

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