A bespoke garden rooms company has been ordered to pay over €35,000 to a sales manager who was dismissed because the firm said it had "no work" for him – before posting on Facebook to say it was experiencing "unprecedented demand".
Sales manager Kieran Murray took a complaint of unfair dismissal against Sherry Garden Rooms Ltd, claiming his purported redundancy from the firm in the summer of 2020 was not genuine.
The company maintained Mr Murray was properly made redundant when it was restructured during the pandemic and that he suffered no financial loss because he was being paid the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
The firm’s owner and managing director said in evidence to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) that Mr Murray started at the firm in 2015 and worked in sales and project management, exploring leads for the business. The company sells and builds garden rooms; self-contained outdoor buildings marketed for use as home offices, gyms or for entertainment.
The owner said he had worked to “nurture” Mr Murray’s sales skills in the years before the pandemic hit and there had been some “performance concerns” which eventually led to an informal warning in November 2019. However, he said there had been a “great improvement” after this and Mr Murray had earned his bonus in 2019.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the owner said he put staff on layoff and started carrying out remote site surveys himself, working up to 10 hours a day. He said he was doing the sales function at this stage and there was “no work available for the respondent”.
The owner said he phoned Mr Murray on May 26th, 2020 to tell him he had been selected for redundancy, and later wrote him a reference stating that his role was “terminated because of the pandemic”.
He went on to pay him a redundancy lump sum of €6,744, based on a starting date in May 2015. Mr Murray’s position was that the redundancy was “opportunistic” and had been presented as a “fait accompli” with no prior consultation. Mr Murray said he was claiming losses of €45,000 – arguing he was out of work for 19 weeks and was earning €391 less a week in his new job, leaving him with an ongoing loss.
He had been “devastated by the redundancy”, he said.
In his submissions, Mr Murray pointed to a Facebook post in June 2020 referring to “unprecedented demand for our business garden rooms” and also cited an Irish Times story featuring the company.
Michael McCormack, who appeared for the firm, argued it would be a “windfall” for Mr Murray if he was compensated for unfair dismissal when he had received the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, adding that the redundancy lump sum ought to be deducted from any award.
“As discussed in the Irish Times article, the respondent business was well-placed to take advantage of the increase in demand”, wrote WRC adjudicating officer Kevin Baneham in a decision on the case.
There was “a complete absence of any procedure, including adhering to that provided in the contract of employment,” he wrote. He ruled Mr Murray had been unfairly dismissed, and also found there were breaches of the Employment (Information) Act and and the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act. He ordered €32,833.70 in compensation for losses because of the unfair dismissal complaint, and said a €6,744 lump sum payment for redundancy would not be deducted.
Mr Baneham also ordered the company to pay Mr Murray two weeks’ salary, €1,962, for the failure to provide notice pay, and a further €1,500 in redress for recording an inaccurate start date on a statement of his terms and conditions of employment.