A sales rep has been awarded over €329,000 for wrongful dismissal after being fired without a formal warning over allegations of bullying.
The award, announced in a ruling released this morning, is believed to be the largest award ever presented by the Workplace Relations Commission and more than double the previous record award.
Complaints were filed against the company in March 2021 by the former sales manager under the Employment Protection Act and the Wage Payment Act.
The man had worked for the firm since December 2016 and was promoted in 2019 – but was fired five months later for serious misconduct after allegations of bullying.
Neither the complainant nor the company were named by the conciliation officer in the case. The judge noted that the parties “expected not to be named at the outset of the proceedings” since the first hearing date preceded the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Zalewski case.
Desmond Ryan BL appeared for the company on behalf of Matheson Solicitors. He said the sales manager was fired for his conduct after a “full and fair investigation and appeals process.”
“The behavior in question related to bullying his manager and another colleague,” he said.
Mr Ryan stated that in May 2019 the firm tried to resolve the issues informally as it was a “first offence” and they wanted to give the sales manager “a chance to improve his tone, reactions and demeanor “.
Emails opened for the hearing of evidence on the decision told the complainant that improvement was “vital to their future”. [the company]“.
The sales manager apologized via email for his language, calling it “too direct and probably rude” on May 15, Mr Ryan said, which the company argued “doesn’t even come close to capturing the seriousness of the complainant’s conduct”.
The company’s position is that it gave the complainant “every reasonable opportunity on several occasions on an informal basis to re-evaluate his aggressive and inappropriate behavior” but that this “only worsened over time,” Mr Ryan said .
Two formal complaints were filed against the complainant in late May and early June 2019, leading to an investigation and subsequent disciplinary proceedings, the lawyer said.
On June 6, the complainant was suspended from salary pending further investigation, he added, as the company’s chief human resources director said she had “serious concerns … that the complainant would repeat the conduct in question,” which “raised personal, business and reputational issues.” risk the company.
Mr Ryan said the suspension was a precautionary measure to avoid affecting the company’s “obligation to provide a workplace free of harassment” and that the complainant had been told it was not a “disciplinary sanction”.
At disciplinary hearings on September 6, 2019, the complainant took the position that he was “frustrated with failures in billing and attribution of leads” which “complicated the circumstances,” Mr. Ryan said.
He said the complainant acknowledged that a WhatsApp recording in which he said: “Either you do something or I will do something about it” could have been something his boss found threatening.
The complainant conceded that his language and behavior were “deserved discipline” but denied that it was bullying and harassment, the lawyer added.
The disciplinary chair concluded the behavior was bullying and that the sales manager had been given “several opportunities” to improve his behavior, Mr Ryan said.
The Disciplinary Chair found that the complainant’s conduct towards one of his colleagues was “intimidating, manipulative and undermining” and that this constituted bullying that went against the company’s workplace policies, Mr Ryan said.
The complainant’s behavior towards his line manager was “unjustified, aggressive and extreme” and this too was “intended as a form of intimidation and harassment”, Mr Ryan added.
The sales manager was fired on September 17, 2019 for gross misconduct.
Mr Ryan said the company’s executive vice president for EMEA heard the appeal in a “full and fair process” and upheld the complainant’s dismissal.
Daniel Johnson of Johnson & Johnson Solicitors, who appeared on behalf of the complainant, said the investigation was not properly isolated from the disciplinary process.
His client was not given the opportunity to cross-examine the two men who made allegations against him at the disciplinary hearings – and that the trial failed to consider his personal relationship with one of the colleagues, Mr Johnson said.
“Robust and harsh language was part of the work culture,” he added.
He said there was no formal warning, contrary to the employee handbook, and that the exact reasons were “not clear in the termination letter” and “did not explain what behavior was either ‘aggressive’ or ‘extreme,'” the attorney said.
The law firm “aggravated some of the allegations” during the disciplinary process and failed to consider mitigating circumstances, he said.
He said the complaints from his client’s manager and colleagues were “vague and lacking credibility as examples of bullying and harassment” – and that it was clear a decision had been made “well before his final dismissal”.
In his decision, published this morning, decision-maker Breiffni O’Neill wrote that it was “extraordinary” that the company decision-maker and his appeals officer believed the correspondence, following an informal discussion on May 7, was treated as a warning could become the complainant.
Mr O’Neill wrote that he did not accept the company’s argument that the words “crucial to your future” should have made it clear that his role was in jeopardy.
“Any sane person would understand it by reading it [this] that the complainant should change his communication style if he wants to advance in his career,” he said.
“I am satisfied that while the applicant did engage in some improper conduct … that under the circumstances fell far short of justifying his dismissal,” added Mr O’Neill.
He pointed out that the comments made between 7 May and 6 June leading to the applicant’s suspension “had not even warranted a formal verbal warning” less than a month earlier.
He also noted that this behavior “occurred during the time of Ramadan, which [he] observed as a practicing Muslim” and was “broadly similar” to the behavior that had led to the informal meeting.
“Any reasonable employer would have tried to understand whether observing Ramadan was causing difficulties for the employee,” he added.
He said there was “no clear indication” in the evidence that the applicant’s conduct deteriorated after the May 7 meeting and that the decision-maker gave “undue weight to informal discussions he had with him on the same day.” “ have attached.
Mr. O’Neill also noted that there had been procedural violations in the investigative and disciplinary process.
He said the decision-maker was “heavily involved in attempts to direct the complainant’s behavior and could not have been considered independent”.
He also noted that the complainant was shown a “lack of decency, humanity and dignity” which was “regrettable” given the references made by the witnesses interviewed to the culture and values of the company and the importance it places on respect .
“The complainant – a frequently promoted high achiever – was suspended by phone call and informed of both his termination of employment and his unsuccessful appeal by email, rather than affording him the basic human courtesy of meeting in person,” he added.
Mr O’Neill found that the dismissal of the sales director was “unfair both in material and procedural terms” and that he was therefore wrongly dismissed.
The applicant tried to be reinstated, but Mr O’Neill said his behavior contributed to his dismissal and that the working relationship between the parties had broken down – and that he would therefore award compensation.
The company’s position was that the sales manager’s salary should be calculated at €219,466 – while the complainant claimed it should be €306,492 based on the timing of bonus payments, which he said were due.
Mr O’Neill noted that there was no statutory provision for the inclusion of bonuses for work that might have been started by one complainant but completed by another worker – and said he would follow the company’s wage calculation.
The complainant had been unemployed from 17 September 2019 to 17 July 2021 – meaning the figure submitted for total damage, €438,932, was more than 104 weeks wages, the maximum compensation the WRC could award, Mr O. Neil wrote.
Mr O’Neill felt it would have been “extremely difficult” to find a new job and was not surprised it had taken 22 months.
“I acknowledge that the Complainant earned a very high salary package, that the Defendant works in a niche sector in a town in a very small country where both employers and recruitment agencies are readily acquainted with each other,” he wrote.
He said there was an “apparent reluctance” among potential employers to offer the complainant “any job, let alone one that pays well” if he were told the reasons for terminating his employment “either by word of mouth or by communication to an interview” .
Mr O’Neill paid 75% of the total financial loss suffered by the applicant – €329,199.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/sales-executive-gets-record-award-of-329000-for-unfair-dismissal-after-he-was-sacked-over-bullying-allegations-41636472.html Sales manager receives record €329,000 wrongful dismissal bounty after being fired over bullying allegations