WRC makes record €329,000 award for unfair dismissal

Sales executive sacked without formal warning over bullying allegations

A sales executive has been awarded over €329,000 for unfair dismissal after being sacked without a formal warning over bullying allegations.

The award, made on Tuesday , is understood to be the largest ever made by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) , and more than double the previous record award.

Complaints were submitted in March, 2021 by the former sales executive under the Unfair Dismissals Act and the Payment of Wages Act against the company.

The man had worked for the firm since December, 2016 and was promoted to enterprise account executive in April 2019 – but was dismissed five months later on the grounds of serious misconduct after he was accused of bullying.

Neither the complainant nor the firm have been named by the adjudicating officer in the case.

Desmond Ryan BL appeared for the company, instructed by Matheson Solicitors. He said the sales executive was dismissed on the grounds of his conduct after a "full and fair investigatory process and an appeal process".

“The conduct in question related to bullying of his manager and another colleague,” he said.

Two formal complaints were made against the complainant in late May and early June, 2019, leading to an investigation and then a disciplinary process, counsel said.

The disciplinary process found the complainant’s behaviour was bullying and that the sales executive had been given “multiple opportunities” to improve his behaviour, Mr Ryan said. It also found that he had been “intimidating, manipulative and undermining” in his behaviour towards one of his colleagues

The sales executive was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct on 17th September, 2019.

Daniel Johnson of Johnson & Company solicitors, who appeared for the complainant, said the investigation was not properly isolated from the disciplinary process.

Informal meeting

His client was not afforded the opportunity to cross-examine the two men who made allegations against him at the disciplinary hearings, Mr Johnson said and that the process failed to take into account his personal relationship with one of the colleagues.

“Robust and coarse language was part of the workplace culture,” he added.

He said there was no formal warning issued, contrary to the employee handbook, and the precise grounds were “unclear in the dismissal letter” and “did not explain what behaviour was either ‘aggressive’ or ‘extreme’,” counsel submitted.

He said the complaints made by his client’s line manager and colleague were “vague and implausible as examples of bullying and harassment” – and it was clear that a decision had been made “well in advance of his ultimate dismissal”.

In his decision, made public on Tuesday, the adjudicating officer Breiffni O’Neill wrote : “I am satisfied that, while the complainant did engage in some inappropriate behaviours . . . these fell a long way short of warranting his dismissal in the circumstances.”

He noted that this behaviour “occurred during the period of Ramadan, which [he] as a practicing Muslim was observing” and was “largely similar” to the behaviour which had led to the informal meeting.

“Any reasonable employer would have tried to understand if the employee’s observance of Ramadan was causing a difficulty for him,” he added.

He also held that there was a “lack of decency, humanity and dignity” shown to the complainant which was “deplorable” in light of the references made by respondent witnesses to the culture and values of the company and the importance it set on respect.

“The complainant – a frequently promoted, top performer – was suspended via a phone call and was informed both that his employment was being terminated and his appeal was unsuccessful via email instead of being afforded the basic human courtesy of a face-to-face meeting,” he added.

Mr O’Neill found the dismissal of the sales executive was “both substantively and proceduraly unfair” and that he was therefore unfairly dismissed and awarded him €329,199, the maximum possible.