A recent Labour Court recommendation where a former employee was awarded €25,000 in compensation for Unfair Dismissal illustrates why employers should make sure to attend any hearings that involve them.
The case in question concerns a former employee’s claim that he was Unfairly Dismissed after he used the Company premises without the permission of his employer.
In accordance with section 20(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969, this particular worker referred his case to the Labour Court in June of 2013. He agreed to be bound by the Recommendation of the Labour Court.
A Labour Court hearing took place in February of this year; however, the Company declined to attend the hearing and did not appoint any representation.
This meant that the evidence submitted was solely that of the Claimant. The Court found it ‘regrettable’ that the employer declined to attend the hearing in any form and found it disappointing that the Company did not avail of its opportunity to present the version of events leading to this dispute from their perspective.
The former employee accepted that he had used the Company’s premises without prior consent. However, he did not accept that his behaviour constituted gross misconduct and, consequently, he contested the gravity of the punishment. The employee argued that his dismissal was disproportionate to his actions and maintained that the dismissal was unfair.
Based on the uncontested submissions of the employee (the Claimant) the Court was satisfied that the penalty of dismissal was inconsistent with the actions of the employee and the Court determined that a warning would have been more appropriate in the circumstances.
According to the Court, the dismissal was both procedurally and substantially unfair and so the Court recommended that the Company pay compensation in the amount of €25,000 to their former employee in respect of his Unfair Dismissal. This figure was to be in full and final settlement.
The difference between Constructive and Unfair Dismissal:
Constructive Dismissal is the term used when an employee terminates his or her employment based on the conduct of the employer. Unfair Dismissal is slightly different in that unfair dismissal cases arise when the employee feels as though he or she has been dismissed by the employer on unfair grounds.
Unlike in an unfair dismissals case where dismissal is deemed to be unfair unless proven otherwise and justified by the employer – in constructive dismissal instances the onus is on the employee to prove that their resignation was based on poor employer conduct. Employees claim constructive dismissal/unfair dismissal under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977-2007.
If it is found that the employee has been unfairly dismissed he or she could either be awarded compensation for the loss of earnings suffered by the dismissal or could be placed back in their original role – However, this is not common practice due to the expected tension or strained relationship between employer/employee and due to the amount of time that is likely to have passed between the termination of the employment contract and the resolution of the case.
Typically, an employee needs to have accrued 52 weeks’ continuous service with the employer. However, it is crucial for the employer to bear in mind that 52 weeks’ continuous service is not always an essential element. Employees dismissed for trade union membership or because they are pregnant/exercise their right to parental leave, for instance, do not have to have accrued 12 months’ continuous service prior to claiming unfair/constructive dismissal under the Acts.
If the employer acts unreasonably towards the employee or breaches the contract of employment (or demonstrates that they no longer intend to adhere to the terms and conditions outlined therein) then the employer is at risk of a claim under the Acts.
It is important for employers to be aware of everything that occurs in their workplace as even other employees’ behaviour that goes unchecked by the employer could contribute to a constructive dismissal case.
It is also very important for employers to attend Labour Court hearings if they are scheduled so they can give evidence in support of their decision. Also, the Court can look less favourably upon employers who fail to attend and can award higher levels of compensation to the employee.