Chef ‘shocked’ by plan to turn restaurant into offices is awarded €21,000

Employee took case to WRC after being told restaurant would close ‘temporarily’ because of pandemic

A senior chef who was “shocked” to discover a planning application to turn the restaurant he worked for into offices has been awarded over €21,000 in compensation, after the Workplace Relations Commission ruled he was unfairly dismissed.

Padraic Casserly made claims under the Unfair Dismissals Act, the Organisation of Working Time Act, and the Payment of wages Act against Tribal Restaurant Ltd – trading as the Tribeton bar and restaurant in Galway, where he had been executive chef since August 2015.

His solicitors told the WRC that their client was advised the restaurant would close “temporarily” because of the Covid-19 pandemic on March 15th 2020.

But on May 29th that year, Mr Casserly was “shocked” to discover that planning permission was being sought to change the restaurant into office space, it was submitted.

On June 20th, the company wrote to him to say the restaurant would stay closed “as it was not viable to open owing to the public health advice and restrictions that remained in place”, his solicitors said, with the directors saying they would review the position in August.

On August 25th, Mr Casserly wrote to seek outstanding pay but got no reply, his solicitors said, and planning permission for the office conversion was granted on September 1st.

But the company had still “failed to advise him of the status of his employment as promised” by the end of August and did not respond to a letter from his solicitor in September.

Mr Casserly said in evidence he was “upset” about Tribal Restaurant Ltd going to seek planning permission without engaging with him and refusing to answer his questions.

“The respondent’s actions were in effect dismissal as the respondent refused to engage with any queries that the complainant had regarding his employment,” his lawyers argued.

‘No response’

In her decision, adjudicating officer Louise Boyle noted that Tribal Restaurant Ltd and its solicitor had attended an initial hearing in July 2021. The matter was adjourned at that stage pending the passage of the emergency legislation last year to allow the WRC to administer oaths, following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Zalewski case.

But when the matter was re-listed for the January 2022 hearing, there was no response from the company or its solicitors, MacSweeney & Company.

The complainant’s lawyers, Berwick Solicitors, said they had been informed by McSweeney & Co that they had come off record in the case, the adjudicator noted.

Ms Boyle noted correspondence from Tribal Restaurant Ltd denying the allegations and insisting staff had been on layoff from March 15th 2020.

“It would have been uneconomic and financially reckless to have reopened when restrictions remained,” the firm said in the written submission, which called Mr Casserly’s complaints “premature and ill-conceived”.

The adjudicator ruled she was satisfied the company was on notice of the hearing date.

“The only sworn evidence that I have to rely on is that from the complainant,” Ms Boyle wrote, calling him a “credible witness”.

“I find it unreasonable that in the circumstances the respondent did not engage with the complainant regarding his queries,” Ms Boyle wrote.

“In all of the circumstances, including that the respondent did not attend the hearing and that the burden of proof rests with the respondent, I find that it was reasonable of the complainant to assume that his employment was terminated, that [he] was dismissed and that the dismissal was unfair,” she wrote.

Mr Casserly estimated his losses at €22,418, Ms Boyle noted, but found he “could have made more sufficient efforts to seek alternative employments, including outside the hospitality sector”, she wrote.

She awarded him 20 weeks’ pay, €17,308.20, for the unfair dismissal, redress of a further four weeks’ pay, €3,461.64 for unpaid notice, and €692.33 for non-payment for public holidays – a total of €21,461.97 in compensation.