Labour Court rules against firm stating ’workers must be protected from retaliatory acts of penalisation’

Workers must be protected from retaliatory acts of penalisation from companies when they make a complaint to the authorities.

Labour Court rules against firm stating ’workers must be protected from retaliatory acts of penalisation’

By Gordon Deegan

Workers must be protected from retaliatory acts of penalisation from companies when they make a complaint to the authorities.

That is according to the Labour Court which has ordered food firm, Couverture Ltd to pay €25,000 compensation to a female worker it dismissed the same day it received a discrimination complaint from the woman against the firm.

On February 21, 2013, Katarzyna Woznickzka filed a complaint under the Equality Act against dessert specialist firm, Couverture Ltd.

Ms Woznickzka filed the complaint after losing her job and being given an alternative role within the company when she returned from maternity leave.

The Dublin firm received the formal notification of the complaint on February 22, 2013 and that afternoon, the firm’s Managing Director, Margaret Lynch, wrote to Ms Woznickzka to dismiss her.

In the letter, Ms Lynch said that Ms Woznickzka’s role as supervisor had been made redundant in 2012 and that she had been offered an alternative role which she was now rejecting.

In its ruling, the Labour Court found that Ms Woznickzka “lost her employment as a result of the victimisation she suffered as a consequence of making a complaint under the Equal Status Act”. 

The Labour Court stated: “To victimise a claimant for making a complaint under the Act is a very serious matter and one which the court cannot in any way condone.

“Workers must be protected from retaliatory acts of penalisation for making a complaint under the Act. To do otherwise would deprive a worker of the rights conferred on them under the Act.”

In evidence at the Labour Court, Ms Lynch confirmed that she received the notice of Ms Woznickzka’s complaint when she opened the post on the morning of February 22, 2013. 

Ms Lynch told the court that the notification of the complaint to some extent influenced her decision to give effect to the redundancy that afternoon.

In its ruling, the Labour Court stated: “On that basis of that admission the court finds that the complaint is well founded.”

The ruling by the Labour Court has overturned an earlier decision by a Workplace Relations Commission Adjudication Officer which found that Ms Woznickzka was not victimised. 

Couverture Ltd told the Labour Court that the decision to dismiss Ms Woznickzka was part of a continuum of engagements that had been ongoing since she returned to work after her maternity leave ended in October 2012.

The company supplies high quality fresh desserts to the hotel trade and started trading in 2004.

Ms Woznickzka commenced working with the company in October 2004 and initially started working on the production line before being promoted to Supervisor.

Ms Woznickzka went on maternity leave in 2012, but on her return to work she was advised that her previous job had been made redundant due to restructuring at the company in response to the recession.

Ms Woznickzka was placed in a new role that combined administration with sales and marketing roles and she carried out this role for roughly five months.

However, after being asked to work an evening at the Catex Fair at the RDS in February 2013, Ms Woznickzka said that she could not work late that evening and asked for her old job back as she was not happy.

Ms Woznickzka sent an email to her employer on February 11 setting out her concerns and at a meeting on February 13, she was advised that the company had a combined administrator and customer support role or could provide a part-time administrative role.

In response, Ms Woznickzka filed a complaint with the Equality Tribunal on February 21 and she was sacked the following day. 

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