A supervisor at a contract cleaning firm working for a government department has been awarded €21,000 in compensation for being transferred away when she complained about a civil servant "bothering the cleaning staff" in the middle of the pandemic.
When notified of the complaint, the government department told Grosvenor Cleaning Services that the civil servant she had complained about would be "progressing retendering the cleaning contract with the Office of Government Procurement", the Workplace Relations Commission was told.
Olivia Quinn took a complaint under section 28 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act against Grosvenor, alleging she had been penalised with the transfer in July 2020 for raising concerns about how her team was being treated six weeks earlier.
The company said there had been an internal investigation that found “no basis to the grievance” she raised and denied penalisation. It said its client was exercising its contractual right to have a worker transferred away.
“I’ve just been on the phone to Olivia Quinn,” read a Grosvenor email submitted in evidence to the commission. “She’s having issues with the new boss.”
The email said the department officer in charge of the cleaning contract had called her into an office on May 21st, 2020 and asked her if the floor had been vacuumed and the table polished. Ms Quinn told him they had and the room was “spotless”, but the man did not disagree.
“He then pointed out a small piece of paper on the floor and asked why that paper was on the floor since 9am this morning,” the email read. “She said, ‘How do you know it’s there since 9am?’ and he told her he had put it there.”
“The cleaning staff hadn’t been in the room between him putting the paper down and picking it up,” the email read, adding that Ms Quinn was unhappy about the incident and said the same civil servant had been “bothering the cleaning staff … with little things”.
The commission was told the company notified the client of the issue. The client wrote back in late June to say there had been a “high level of frustration” with the level of cleaning in the building. Its email added that the civil servant she had complained about would be “progressing retendering the cleaning contract with the Office of Government Procurement”.
“The prospect of any working relationship has clearly broken down so we would suggest that Olivia is redeployed,” it read.
Ms Quinn was transferred off the site six weeks after the incident, having spent 18 years working there, the commission heard. She told the hearing that she suffered financial loss from the move because her new work location was closed under the public health controls.
Adjudication officer Brian Dalton wrote in his decision that Grosvenor was potentially "forced and pressed" into transferring Ms Quinn. "Additional pressure was being brought on the employer to transfer her with reference to the future tendering process," he wrote.
“She raised a grievance at the height of the pandemic, that an official of the client was allegedly being oppressive in his interactions with staff by laying traps, so to speak, and attempting to catch them out,” he wrote. “The cleaning staff were essential workers in the fight against Covid and the supervisor believed that the treatment being visited on them was entirely inappropriate.”
Mr Dalton found this was the direct cause of her removal from her workplace of 18 years, calling it “a very significant act of penalisation”. He said the department’s demand for a transfer “should have been challenged” by Grosvenor.
"It clearly demonstrates that she is being moved for making the complaint and it also further pressurises the contract cleaning company to transfer her by referencing the upcoming tender, " he said.
He declared Ms Quinn’s complaint to be well founded and ordered Grosvenor to pay her €21,000 in compensation.