Company ordered to pay €22,000 for sacking former partner of boss’s son after relationship broke down

Workplace Relations Commission rules dismissal was unfair

A secretary sacked following a break-up with her boss’s son – a company director in the family firm where she worked – is to be paid nearly €22,000 after the Workplace Relations Commission ruled her dismissal unfair.

The employment tribunal found there had been a “sharp deficit in the duty of care” on the part of the firm and that the employee, who had worked there for over a decade, “deserved better”.

Rosemarie Quinlan’s claim under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 against Spencer Family Holdings Limited was upheld in a decision published by the Workplace Relations Commission this morning.

Ms Quinlan said she had been a secretary for the company from 2010 to November 2020 and was the former partner of a director in the firm, named only as Mr Y in the decision.

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She said the relationship with Mr Y “broke down” in June 2019 and that she was told by the senior director in the firm and her former partner to “go home”.

The tribunal heard she had been placed on Covid-19-related leave in March 2020 and that the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme was availed of.

Ms Quinlan said she did not receive her wages at the end of October 2020 and questioned this with the firm.

“Nobody seemed to know anything,” she said.

She told the hearing she was then informed that a letter had been sent and that she would receive holiday pay.

Her barrister, Tom Kelly BL, who appeared instructed by David Burke & Co Solicitors, submitted an email from the firm to his client stating that Ms Quinlan’s employment had been ceased “due to downturn in our business” from 25th September that year.

The letter said holiday pay would follow in the last monthly pay packet, and offered a reference.

The email stated a date of “28th August 2020″, but Ms Quinlan said she had received the message “a day after” her inquiry to the firm after her wages were not paid as she expected on the 28th or 29th of October that year.

Adjudicating officer Patsy Doyle noted that the company had sought and was refused an adjournment in advance of the hearing in July this year but made no appearance.

Ms Quinlan said she was “shocked” to learn of her dismissal and that she was left with a gap of ten weeks before she was able to secure a social welfare payment.

She said she built up rent arrears as a result and had difficulty finding new work.

Her evidence was that she had not resigned.

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Mr Kelly argued his client’s dismissal was “wholly unjustifiable” and that it “did not reflect a work-based event”.

He said his client had not been paid for the month of October 2020, or for her accrued annual leave and notice period.

She wrote that it was her belief the company would have been able to “show respect for the WRC hearing” by sending a representative in view of “the variety of contact names attributed to the business” in its correspondence with the tribunal’s case officer.

Ms Doyle recorded a “no show” and went ahead with the hearing in the absence of the respondent.

She noted that there had been correspondence in April and June last year from the company disputing Ms Quinlan’s salary and that she had been dismissed, claiming that Ms Quinlan had resigned voluntarily.

A statement from the firm said Ms Quinlan had been “absent from work for 10 months”.

“It was felt in essence that Rose [Ms Quinlan] had quit the job of her own accord,” the company director wrote.

“He went on to outline a background of personal difficulties, where the complainant, who had been in a relationship with his son, was party to a formal end of the relationship,” Ms Doyle wrote.

The statement added that the company would “fully abide by any order” made by the WRC.

In her decision, Ms Doyle wrote that the company had relied on “two vastly different reasons” for the termination of employment and that she had nor received either “a record of resignation ... or an acknowledgment of resignation”.

She found the complainant had been dismissed, and that in the absence of the respondent, she had been unable to identify that there were “substantial grounds or reasonable circumstances” for the dismissal.

“In all, I found a sharp deficit in the duty of care I would have expected to see in an employer-employee relationship. I appreciate that Covid-19 era challenged everyone and was unprecedented. However, the complainant was a long-standing employee, who deserved better,” Ms Doyle wrote.

The firm “fell seriously short of best practice and respect for the complainant both as an employee and [an] associated family member”, Ms Doyle wrote.

“The Act does not permit dismissal in absentia and the residual and enduring effect here is a sense of abandonment by the respondent. The complainant had a right to be heard, which was denied,” she concluded.

She found the dismissal was both substantively and procedurally unfair and made an order against Spencer Family Holdings Limited to pay Ms Quinlan €21,980, a sum equivalent to 14 months’ salary.

“I have arrived at this figure in response to the profound procedural void in the case and the impact of this omission on the complainant,” she added, noting that it included pay in lieu of notice, unpaid salary and unpaid holiday entitlements.