A worker who said his bosses at a Co Cork distillery “kept stringing him along” with promises that he would be appointed to a graduate job while he worked on its bottling line has won his case for constructive dismissal.
A Workplace Relations Commission adjudicating officer came down in the worker’s favour after finding that three company directors “each gave a different version” of the complainant’s employment and their interactions with him.
In his complaint under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977, Bryan Murphy told the Workplace Relations Commission he had been recruited for a marketing job at West Cork Distillers in September 2020 – but that he was instead put to work on the factory floor.
The company, founded in 2003, produces single malt Irish whiskey, along with gin and vodka, at its distillery in Skibbereen, Co Cork.
Mr Murphy said the job he had on the bottle line was “meant to be a temporary position only” – a situation he accepted after being told it was “very busy” while waiting to fill the marketing role.
He said West Cork Distillers “kept stringing him along” and that he was not given a contract of employment at the time because the firm had no HR officer then.
Mr Murphy said he only ever got a draft contract in April 2020, when his pay increased to €12.50 per hour.
When he pointed out to a company director that the contract “did not acknowledge the promises that had been made to him” the contract was “snapped” from him by the director, he said.
He added that he never saw that contract again and didn’t get to sign it.
Mr Murphy said he was put under “intolerable pressure” by the company directors, adding that one had “belittled” him in a WhatsApp group with staff.
Another director was telling him “what he wanted to hear regarding the graduate marketing role” which was “never going to happen”.
The tribunal heard the complainant went on sick leave in 2020, which the company regarded as being “above normal”.
Mr Murphy said the company had claimed in its legal submissions to the WRC that he had not raised any issue with it by March 2021 and that it was “not aware of his stress”, but that this was contradicted by details contained in a company doctor’s report.
Mr Murphy said that a HR officer later appointed by the company knew about “audible” arguments between Mr Murphy and the company directors – and that the complainant had been “promised better jobs”.
Mr Murphy’s position was that because of “promises that were made” and the “attitude and approach of the directors” he was forced to resign.
All three of the firm’s directors also gave evidence to an adjudication hearing in August this year, with the company denying Mr Murphy had been “promised any position in marketing”.
One of the directors told the hearing that Mr Murphy’s mother “approached him for a job for her son” and that at no stage “was she ever promised a position in marketing for him”.
The company’s solicitors, Ronan Daly Jermyn LLP, argued that Mr Murphy “resigned the position of his own choice” and “was not pressured by anyone”, and urged the tribunal to dismiss his complaint.
The WRC official in charge of the case, Jim O’Connell, recorded that the three company directors who gave evidence “each gave a different version surrounding the employment of [Mr Murphy] and the different interactions that took place during his employment”.
He wrote in his decision that there was a conflict of evidence over what Mr Murphy had been hired for.
“I find the employee’s evidence very persuasive. When he was cross-examined by the company’s legal representative… his answers were immediate and he acknowledged some points that were asked of him,” Mr O’Connell wrote.
“I find the evidence from the directors isn’t as convincing,” he continued, adding that the managing director “could not recall the events” when asked.
Mr O’Connell made the finding that Mr Murphy “was not provided with a contract of employment” and that taking all matters into consideration, the complainant was “left with no option but to resign”.
Upholding the worker’s complaint, Mr O’Connell ordered West Cork Distillers to pay Mr Murphy redress of €2,100, four weeks’ pay, for loss of earnings in circumstances where the complainant had found new work again “almost immediately”.