International real estate giant CBRE has been ordered to pay a worker over €78,000 for denying her an enhanced redundancy package she was due after nearly 24 years on the job.
A Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) official found there had been a “serious contravention” by a division of the group in reducing the employee’s severance package from the six weeks’ pay per year of service.
A company HR officer admitted that a transfer agreement document the company had relied upon setting down a five-year limit “only applied to UK employees”.
The tribunal upheld a complaint by Aideen O’Regan under the European Communities (Protection of Employees on Transfer of Undertakings) Regulations 2003 against CBRE GWS (Ireland) Ltd.
Her parallel complaint under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 was rejected.
The WRC heard Ms O’Regan had transferred into the employment of a CBRE subsidiary on New Year’s Day 2015 in a transfer of undertakings from her previous employer, Thompson Reuters, where she had worked since February 1995, attached to a legal team.
Ms O’Regan’s barrister, James Nerney BL, who appeared instructed by Niall MacCarthy Gaffney Halligan & Co Solicitors, said it had been a “particular” concern for his client and the only other Ireland-based employee of Thompson Reuters affected that their terms and conditions of employment would be respected during the transfer.
The complainant’s evidence was that she and the other worker were “worried about being transferred” because they were “older employees”. They met a HR officer to discuss the matter on 18th May, 2014.
She said she was told by the HR officer: “The severance/redundancy package applying to them in TR [Thompson Reuters], which was six weeks of pay per year of service, would be retained in the event of redundancy… there was no time limit after the transfer.”
Three years later in 2017, Ms O’Regan told the tribunal, the legal team moved to a separate office and she was moved to a premises in the IFSC in Dublin, where the tribunal heard the company already had a facilities team in place.
The complainant said that in September 2020 the office manager at that premises informed her he was reducing her hours from a four-day week to two and that she objected on the basis that her contract was protected by the terms of the transfer agreement.
She said she did not receive a booklet referring to the five-year cap on the enhanced redundancy terms and that she had found out about this during consultation meetings.
After making inquiries with the firm’s UK office, she found out a TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)) transfer agreement negotiated on behalf of UK Thompson Reuters staff by the Unite trade union had included the five-year time limit, she said.
Ms O’Regan said she had “never seen the five-year limit on the severance package” and had not got a copy of the booklet being relied on by the company.
She was notified on 30th October, 2020 that her employment would end a month later, the tribunal heard.
The company, which was represented by Ananta Kaur of Ibec, said it had been a “legitimate redundancy situation” arising from a restructuring of CBRE in Ireland and the UK.
Ms Kaur said Ms O’Regan had received a statutory redundancy payment of €31,620 as well as pay in lieu of notice and for untaken annual leave.
The company’s head of operations Stephen Cullen said in his evidence that he believed the enhanced redundancy offer had “elapsed” in January 2020.
HR officer James Stowe, who also gave evidence, accepted under cross-examination by the complainant’s barrister that he had no involvement in the 2015 transfer of Irish staff into CBRE and that he had been unable to find reference to their redundancy terms in the company’s file.
Mr Stowe accepted that two pages attached to notes of a consultation meeting, which provided for a five-year cap on enhanced redundancy “came from the UK TUPE file”.
He also accepted that the booklet with the terms “only applied to the UK employees”.
In her decision, adjudicating officer Marian Duffy wrote that she was satisfied the redundancy was genuine and that the complainant had not been unfairly dismissed.
She noted that the employment transfer document for UK staff was dated April 2015, but that that Ms O’Regan’s meeting with the company’s representative on the transfer terms had taken place the preceding November.
“I am satisfied that the UK agreement, with the UK employees and the union, limiting the application of the severance/package to five years after the TUPE transfer, did not apply to the complainant,” Ms Duffy added.
“For these reasons, I am satisfied that the respondent contravened the terms of the TUPE transfer in respect of the terms of the enhanced redundancy package transferred by only paying the complainant statutory redundancy,” she added.
She added the complainant was at a “considerable loss” as a result of having her severance terms cut to the statutory minimum, noting that Ms O’Regan had been paid €750 a week at the end of 23.85 years’ service.
“I am satisfied that it was a serious contravention of the Regulations and the maximum award of 2 years compensation is just and equitable,” Ms Duffy wrote, and awarded the complainant €78,104 in compensation.