A recent decision of the Labour Court serves as a useful
reminder to employers that there is another route other than the
Unfair Dismissals Acts by which an aggrieved employee can claim
against an employer for a dismissal. We examine the alternative
Industrial Relations Acts route and suggest tips for employers to
ensure they are prepared in the event of these claims.
Under section 13 (9) of the Industrial Relations Act 1969, an
employee who may not have statutory rights under the Unfair
Dismissals Acts, may bring a claim that she/he was unfairly
dismissed. Such a claim is brought initially to the Workplace
Relations Commission ("WRC") and
ultimately to the Labour Court. Unlike the Unfair Dismissals Acts
which have a statutory requirement of at least a year's
continuous service by an employee, the Industrial Relations Acts
impose no such service requirement on employees.
In February 2017, in the case of A Worker
v Therapie Clinic (decision no. LCR 21396), the
Labour Court found an employer liable under the Industrial
Relations Act 1969 for the unfair dismissal of a worker.
It was disputed that the worker was dismissed as a result of
complaints from three clients and the investigation that followed.
The worker claimed that she was called to a meeting without being
informed of her right to be accompanied by a colleague. This was in
breach of her right to fair procedures. During that meeting, she
was dismissed with immediate effect.
The WRC found in favour of the employer and deemed the dismissal
to be fair and reasonable in the circumstances. The worker appealed
the decision of the WRC to the Labour Court.
During the course of the Labour Court hearing, the Court was
provided with a copy of the employer's disciplinary procedures.
The employer acknowledged at the hearing that the steps taken
following receipt of the complaints from clients did not comply
with their disciplinary procedures.
The Labour Court accepted that the client complaints carried
potentially serious implications for the employer's business.
However, the Labour Court found that an essential feature of a fair
disciplinary procedure is that the employer follows the procedure
set down and understood in the employment when dealing with
disciplinary matters. In this instance, the Court found that the
employer did not follow its own procedure. The Court found that the
actions taken by the employer were not fair and deviated from the
employer's own disciplinary procedure. As a result, the Labour
Court found that the worker had been unfairly dismissed and awarded
her compensation of €3,500.
Advice for employers
Employers should make sure that they have a disciplinary
procedure in place and that it is fit for purpose.
Actual adherence by an employer to their own procedure is of
paramount importance when a disciplinary investigation is required.
The fact that a worker may have been on probation or may have had
less than one year's service when dismissed will not prevent
the WRC or the Labour Court from imposing liability on an employer
under the Industrial Relations Act 1969 for a dismissal that is
deemed unfair. In this case, the failure of the employer to adhere
to its own procedures resulted in it being found liable for a
dismissal that was deemed to be unfair.
It is also an important reminder to employers that a claim under
the Unfair Dismissals Acts is not the only option available to
workers who believe that they have been unfairly dismissed.
While awards under the Industrial Relations Acts are not legally
enforceable against an employer, employers with a significant union
presence, particularly those in the public sector, will find it
difficult to side step the moral authority of the Labour Court. A
refusal by an employer to be bound by a Labour Court decision could
create unexpected industrial relations consequences by, for
example, increasing worker disaffection or adversely affecting
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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The Court of Appeal has held that where a contract of employment lacks a provision for when notice of termination takes effect, it is effective from when the employee personally takes delivery of the letter containing notice.
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