‘Lazy’ Sodexo unfairly dismissed two night shift workers

Catering giant opted for ‘tick-box’ exercise rather than try to avoid dismissals, WRC rules

‘The consultation process was lazy as well as wholly inadequate,’ said WRC adjudicator Breiffni O’Neill

‘The consultation process was lazy as well as wholly inadequate,’ said WRC adjudicator Breiffni O’Neill

 

Catering giant Sodexo carried out a “lazy” and “wholly inadequate” redundancy process in dismissing two night shift workers when its client sent staff to work from home during the pandemic, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ruled.

Patricia Fleming and Kaye McDonnell both brought claims under the Unfair Dismissals Act against Sodexo claiming they were “deliberately targeted” for redundancy because they were on better rates of pay.

Both women represented themselves at a joint adjudication hearing into their cases in April.

The WRC was told they had both worked at a client site in Ovens, Co Cork as employees of Aramark Catering for over a decade each when Sodexo took over their employment in October 2010.

Ms Fleming had been a chef supervisor while Ms McDonnell had worked as a supervisor, the hearing was told. Both women said Sodexo’s move to make all the workers on the night shift redundant in September 2020 was unfair.

They said the consultation process which was carried out by the catering contractor “did not facilitate counter-proposals from the workers”.

In addition, colleagues who were kept on were given extra hours, the women said in evidence, adding that one colleague who was made redundant was later re-hired.

Pandemic

Ibec employer relations executive Niamh Ní Cheallaigh, who appeared on behalf of Sodexo, said its client in Ovens had said it “would no longer be requiring the night shift” on the site because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said Sodexo had paid all staff their full pay with the support of Government pandemic subsidies until September 2020, when the rules were changed.

Ms Ní Cheallaigh said at that point neither of the respondents qualified for the subsidies.

Because the client in Ovens intended to continue with home working for the “foreseeable future”, Sodexo decided to “right-size” its catering staff on the site.

She said the women were advised their roles were at risk of redundancy on August 4th, 2020 at a virtual “town hall” meeting and, at three meetings in August and September, were consulted with by Sodexo’s account manager, Brenda Flaherty, and its catering manager, John Kidney.

The firm had not identified any suitable roles for them to transfer to, she said.

Both complainants were issued with notices of redundancy, confirmed by letter on September 8th, Ms Ní Cheallaigh said, and were advised of their right to appeal.

Both were given an ex-gratia lump sum which included their statutory redundancy payments, capped at a year’s salary, she added.

Both were offered the opportunity to appeal the redundancies but failed to do so.

Consultation

In twin decisions issued this week, adjudicating officer Breiffni O’Neill wrote that there was an “absence of any concrete evidence” to suggest Sodexo had carried out a meaningful consultation process “instead of simply deciding to make all of the workers on the night shift redundant”.

“The consultation process was lazy as well as wholly inadequate and was essentially a tick-box exercise rather than a genuine and considered attempt” to avoid dismissals, he wrote.

Mr O’Neill ruled that a reasonable employer would have included all day, evening and night shift workers on the site in the selection process for redundancies instead of making the “shocking assertion” that it was entitled to dismiss the night shift but retain the other shifts.

He added that he was satisfied the two women had been given “erroneous advice” by their trade union, Siptu, and that this was the reason they failed to appeal.

He ruled both Ms Fleming and Ms McDonnell had been unfairly dismissed.

Ms McDonnell was awarded €8,580, a sum equivalent to the difference in weekly pay between her former job at Sodexo and her new employer. Ms Fleming received €5,305.36 on the same basis.