Categories
Equality and Discrimination

Shop Assistant Awarded 2 Years’ Salary for Discriminatory Dismissal

workplace discrimination ireland

When Jimmy came to see me after he was dismissed from his job I advised him against bringing a claim for unfair dismissal. And that decision has now paid off handsomely.

Because Jimmy has now been awarded 2 years’ salary for the claim arising from his dismissal-a discrimination claim under the Employment Equality Act 1998, not the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977.

Let me explain why we made this decision.

I was confident that Jimmy was unfairly dismissed, but if he is successful in his unfair dismissal claim under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 he is only entitled to financial loss. Because Jimmy obtained a new job quickly after his dismissal, he would only have been entitled to 1 month’s wages if he was successful with an unfair dismissal claim.

However, if Jimmy could prove a discriminatory dismissal, he could be awarded up to 2 years’ salary, regardless of whether he got a new job or not. Because the award under the Employment Equality Act 1998 is for the act of discrimination and the WRC adjudicator has wide discretion as to the amount to be awarded, assuming he wins his case.

And that is what the adjudication officer has done in this case, the decision of which you can read at the bottom of this page.

Obviously in order to have a choice in a situation like Jimmy’s the employee must have been discriminated against on one of the 9 grounds of discrimination. Therefore, the choice may or may not arise, depending on the circumstances.

In Jimmy’s case he was dismissed whilst he was out on certified sick leave so we made the argument that this was a discriminatory dismissal on the basis that Jimmy was suffering from a disability at the time of the dismissal and it was a central factor in the termination of his employment.

Parallel or duplicate proceedings

Generally, you cannot bring a claim under two different acts arising from the same set of circumstances, and you may be forced to pick one claim or the other. In this case we chose, for the reasons set out above, to pursue the claim under the Employment Equality Act 1998.

A recent case which I have written about saw the employee being awarded compensation under the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Maternity Protection Act 1994. But section 101 Employment Equality Act 1998 states, inter alia,

F183 [ (4A) (a) Where an employee refers —

(i) a case or claim under section 77 , and

(ii) a claim for redress under the Act of 1977,

to the Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission in respect of a dismissal, then, from the relevant date, the case or claim referred to in subparagraph (i) shall, in so far only as it relates to such dismissal, be deemed to have been withdrawn unless, before the relevant date, the employee withdraws the claim under the Act of 1977.

Conclusion

Frequently the decisions you make before you submit your claim to the Workplace Relations Commission, and what claim you bring, will prove to be strategically important later.

Footnote: please note Jimmy is a pseudonym of my client’s real name.

Read the full anonymised decision here.

Categories
Employment Claims Equality and Discrimination

Two Discrimination Cases-Different Responses from Employer, Similar Outcome for Employee

employment claims
Cross examination notes

I have been involved in two discrimination cases which have been finalised in the last few weeks. The outcomes of the cases, coincidentally, are similar and have culminated in compensation for both employees.

The first one involved a case of sexual harassment in the workplace and resulted in a compensation payment, tax free, of €30,000. You can read more about that case, including the full decision of the WRC, here.

The other case, one you will not read about because it has been settled before ever going to the Workplace Relations Commission, has been settled for a similar sum of money. It was a discrimination case, not sexual harassment, as defined by the Employment Equality Act 1998.

The amount of work involved for me in both cases differed wildly, however.

The sexual harassment case involved a great deal of time and work and involved three days at the WRC: the first day was for mediation, the second day for the hearing, and the third day was to complete the hearing. Evidence had to be taken from two witnesses, cross examination of at least three witnesses, and booklets and submissions had to be prepared and submitted.

The second case, by contrast, only involved the submission of the complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission; shortly after this the solicitor for the employer made contact and the case was settled.

Responding to claims-professional or amateur?

I categorise responding to employment claims in two ways: professional or amateur.

When you bring any legal case or employment claim it is impossible to know how the other side will react.

One response is a pragmatic approach and a realistic attempt to settle the case by the party who is in the weaker position and is at risk if the case goes to a full hearing.

The risk, if you are the employer, involves an award of compensation against you, legal costs of representation, time taken to prepare for the case, and reputational damage.

The other response is to substitute cool analysis of the facts and the law with an emotional response to ‘fight the case’ to the end. This does not make much sense, quite frankly, but it is an easy reaction to embrace.

And if you have the money and are fully aware of the risks and costs, knock yourself out, if you want to. But the ‘professional’ approach, using logic and evidence rather than emotions, might serve you better in the long run.

Now, the professional response may be to fight the case in all circumstances, in order to discourage claims against you generally or copycat claims. But you should make this decision rationally after assessing all the relevant factors rather than responding emotionally.

The employee, too, must weigh up the chance of success versus the associated costs of representation, the probability of winning, and the potential remedies that can be gained. (This blog post, How to Make a Decision to Bring an Employment Claim to WRC or Not, might be worth a read.)

Categories
Equality and Discrimination

Discriminatory Dismissal Leads to €46,000 Compensation Award

workplace discrimination ireland

Could you afford an employment law award of €46,000 against you? Let’s face it you would be hard pressed to just take it on the chin and chalk it down to experience.

But that is what you could be facing if you are at the losing end of a WRC decision as occurred recently in a case involving a claim founded on discrimination.

An office manager in a software firm was awarded €46,000 in compensation by the WRC for her discriminatory dismissal.

The employee who brought the claim had an incurable degenerative disease (fibromyalgia) and was dismissed whilst on sick leave. This disease caused her muscle pain, fatigue, sleep and memory problems.

The €46,000 award comprised 2 parts:

  1. €23,000 in respect of the actual discriminatory dismissal and
  2. €23,000 for the failure of the employer to make reasonable accommodation in allowing the employee to continue in her job.

The award took into account the way the employer dismissed the employee: by telephone.

Background

The background to the case is the employee was employed since 2015 and went on certified sick leave in May 2017; in November 2017 she was dismissed by conference call. Whilst she was out sick her occupational therapist made a number of recommendations as to how she could be accommodated in the workplace including:

  • Working from home
  • More rest breaks
  • Flexible working rosters
  • A temporary reduction in working hours.

The employee was then involved in a car accident in August 2017 and she was not expected to return to work until January 2018 as she required a spinal implant procedure.

However, in November 2017 she was told by phone that she was being given one month’s notice of dismissal but would be paid in lieu of notice and her termination was, therefore, with immediate effect. The employer mentioned incapacity and “the problems her absenteeism were causing.”

In her evidence at the WRC the employee told that she was not given any warning of her potential termination nor was she given the chance to appeal the decision. The employee was on certified sick leave at the time and was taken aback at the decision which had a significant impact on her from a personal and financial perspective.

She also spoke of the pride she took in being able to work despite her difficulties and she was anxious to show that sufferers from such diseases/disabilities can do things and take part in the workplace.

The employer denied it failed to offer reasonable accommodation and stated it could not hold her position open indefinitely.

Warning for employers

This case is further evidence, if any were needed, that employers need to be very careful about how they deal with their employees, especially when it comes to terminating employment on the grounds of incapacity.

Employers are perfectly entitled to terminate an employee’s job on the grounds of incapacity but only after looking carefully at the options, obtaining updated medical evidence, warning the employee his/her job is at risk of termination, and giving them the opportunity to appeal the decision.

Otherwise, the employer runs the risk of a discrimination-based claim either on the grounds of discriminatory dismissal or straightforward discrimination or failure to make reasonable accommodation for the employee’s continued employment.

Categories
Employment Claims

The Statutory Penalties for Breaches of Employment Law in Ireland

Are you aware of the range of penalties that are set down in legislation in Ireland for breaches of employment law?

There is a large number of statutes/acts dealing with all aspects of employment law in Ireland. These acts cover overnighting from unfair dismissal to working time to payment of wages to health and safety to annual leave and rest breaks, etc.

In addition to these penalties and employee can always go to the Civil Courts for common law claims such as breach of contract, personal injury, negligence, health and safety breaches, breach of constitutional rights, etc. That is another day’s work.

This piece is going to look at the penalties and redress for employees as set out in statute, that is, the various acts on the statute book.

Regardless of whether you are an employer or employee, you should find it useful.

Unfair Dismissal/Constructive Dismissal

The redress is set out in section 7, Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977, and in summary comprises

  1. Reinstatement or
  2. Reengagement or
  3. Compensation of up to 104 weeks’ remuneration in respect of the financial loss due to the dismissal.

If there is no financial loss an employee can be awarded 4 weeks’ remuneration.

Working Time/Rest Breaks

The penalties are set out in section 27, Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997:

  1. Require the employer to comply with the relevant provision of the act
  2. Compensation of up to 2 years’ remuneration.

Written Terms of Employment

Failure to provide a written statement of terms and conditions of employment within 2 months of starting can be punished as set out in section 7 of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act, 1994.

The WRC adjudicator can order the employer to give the statement to the employee and can award up to 4 weeks’ remuneration by way of compensation.

Protected Disclosures/Whistleblowing

The Protected Disclosures Act, 2014 provides severe penalties in section 11 for dismissal of an employee for making a protected disclosure:

  • 260 weeks (5 years) remuneration

The employee can also bring a tort action for having suffered detriment as a result of making a protected disclosure, as set out in section 13, Protected Disclosures Act, 2014, and can seek an order from the Circuit Court as set out in section 11 of the act preventing dismissal prior to the determination of a claim for unfair dismissal.

Payment of Wages

Section 6, Payment of Wages act, 1991 sets out the penalties for breaches of the act. These include

  • Compensation of the net amount of the wages which would have been paid the previous week prior to the deduction/non payment or
  • Twice the net amount of wages that would have been paid to the employee in the week immediately preceding the deduction or payment

Minimum Notice

Compensation can be awarded pursuant to Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act, 1973: “may award to the employee compensation for any loss sustained by him by reason of the default of the employer.”

Agency Workers

Penalties for breach of Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012 are set out in schedule 2 of the Act. It states that the WRC can order rectification of whatever breach of the act is proved, including reengagement or reinstatement, and/or order compensation of up to 2 years’ remuneration be paid to the employee.

Adoptive Leave, Carer’s Leave, Parental Leave

Breach of the adoptive leave provisions of the Adoptive Leave Act, 1995 can see compensation of up to 20 weeks’ remuneration awarded to the employee, or the WRC making whatever directive order it feels is expedient in the circumstances.

Carer’s leave: a WRC adjudicator can award a grant of carer ’ s leave to the employee of such length to be taken at such time or times and in such manner as the adjudication officer may specify, and/or up to 26 weeks’ compensation.(Carer’s Leave Act, 2001).

Parental Leave and Force Majeure Leave:  an adjudicator can award (a) the grant to the employee of parental leave of such length to be taken at such time or times and in such manner as may be so specified, and/or compensation of up to 20 weeks’ remuneration.(Parental Leave Act, 1998).

Maternity leave: breaches of the employees entitlement can lead to an award of compensation of up to 20 weeks’ remuneration and or grant of the leave to which the employee is entitled.(Maternity Protection act, 1994).

Transfer of Undertakings

Complaints about breaches of S.I. No. 131/2003 – European Communities (Protection of Employees on Transfer of Undertakings) Regulations 2003 can lead to compensation being awarded depending on which regulation has been breached.

The compensation can range from a maximum of 4 weeks’ remuneration to 2 years’ remuneration.

Part Time Workers

The Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act, 2001 is the relevant act for part time workers.

It provides that the WRC adjudicator can require the employer to comply with the relevant provision and/or award 2 years’ remuneration to the employee.

Fixed Term Workers

The Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003 is the relevant act for fixed term workers. Section 14 of the revised act provides the WRC adjudicator can:

(b) require the employer to comply with the relevant provision,

(c) require the employer to reinstate or reengage the employee (including on a contract of indefinite duration), or

(d) require the employer to pay to the employee compensation of such amount (if any) as the adjudication officer considers just and equitable having regard to all of the circumstances, but not exceeding 2 years ’ remuneration in respect of the employee ’ s employment.

Redundancy

The Redundancy Payments Act, 1967, section 7 sets out the employee’s right to a redundancy payment. Section 39 allows you to appeal the amount you have been awarded.

The Protection of Employment Act, 1977 also obliges the employer to inform and consult with employees in a collective redundancy situation. Section 11 of the Act sets out the penalties for the employer’s failure to consult and notify: a fine of up to €5,000 on summary conviction in respect of a breach of section 9 or section 10.

Discrimination and Equality Based Claims

Breaches of the Employment Equality Act, 1998 can see redress being ordered pursuant to section 82 of the Employment Equality Act, 1998:

Various orders including for re-engagement, re-instatement or compensation of up to 2 years’ remuneration or €40,000, whichever is the greater.

€13,000 can be awarded in contravention of the law in relation to a discriminatory claim in relation to access to employment.

Equal Status Acts Breaches

Equal status breaches can be penalised in accordance with the Equal Status Act, 2000. This protects you in relation to discrimination in respect of the supply of goods or services.

The maximum amount that can be awarded is the amount of the District Court limit in civil cases in contract (€15,000).

Minimum Wages

The National Minimum Wage Act, 2000 protects employees in relation to minimum wage rates. Complaints can be dealt with under section 26 of the act. The adjudication officer can order that the shortfall be rectified and paid to the employee, and the employee can also be awarded reasonable costs in respect of bringing the claim.

The employer can also be prosecuted in the District Court for breaches of this minimum wage act.

Health and Safety

Breaches of the Safety Health and Welfare Act 2005 can see an adjudication officer awarding compensation of such amount as he feels equitable in the circumstances for breach of section 27 of the act, which protects employees from penalisation or dismissal for making a complaint in respect of health and safety in the workplace.

Conclusion

The list above is not definitive, but certainly covers the most common types of employment law claim that will be brought to the WRC (Workplace Relations Commission), or Labour Court. A WRC adjudicator has a wide range of discretion for breaches of any particular act, so the various acts referred to above set out the maximum awards possible.

Categories
Employment Claims Equality and Discrimination

Discrimination and Equality Based Claims in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC)

equality in workplac

There are 9 grounds of discrimination recognised in Irish law:

  • Gender
  • Civil status
  • Family status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race (includes race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins)
  • Membership of the travelling community.

If your claim to the WRC cannot be based on one of these grounds you may have been treated unfairly or harshly or rudely or appallingly badly, but you have not been discriminated against.

If you have a discrimination based claim it may be one of the following:

  1. You have been discriminated against by an employer, potential employer, employment agency, or other body
  2. You have not received equal pay because of one or more of the 9 grounds (if your equal pay complaint cannot be based on a discriminatory ground you have no claim for discrimination as there is nothing unlawful about paying a different rate of pay for the same work)
  3. The Pensions Act, 1980 prohibits discrimination in respect of occupational pensions-you may not have been allowed to join an occupational pension of have been treated less favourably
  4. An employment agreement contains a provision which is discriminatory, contrary to sections 8 and 9 of the Employment Equality Act, 1998
  5. The Equal Status Acts 2000-2008 allows a discriminatory claim to be brought against a person or company who supplies goods or services or facilities.

Claims from 1 to 4 above are commenced by filling out a form, EE2, which you send to the person who you claim has discriminated against you. They reply on form EE3. If they don’t reply inferences can be drawn from this.

Once you have received their response you can then decide whether to bring a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) under the Employment Equality acts.

Claims Under Equal Status Acts

Not a lot of people know this..

Most people think the WRC (Workplace Relations Commission) only deals with employment and/or industrial relations issues.

That’s not the case, at all.

The Workplace Relations Commission also deals with complaints about discrimination in the provision of goods and services, accommodation, and access to education under the Equal Status Acts 2000-2015.

Discrimination in the context of employment has 9 grounds of discrimination. But under equality legislation there is now 10 grounds of discrimination, thanks to the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015, which created a 10th ground in respect of housing assistance.

The main thrust of the Equal Status acts is to prevent discrimination in relation to the provision of all services, including entertainment, banking, transport, travel, insurance, and more.

The 10 grounds of discrimination covered by the Equal Status acts are

  • Gender
  • Civil status
  • Race/colour/nationality
  • Family status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Membership of the travelling community
  • Disability
  • Housing assistance in relation to the provision of residential accommodation

How to Make a Complaint to the WRC

The first thing you must do is to complete and send a form-ES1-which is a notification in writing to the person/company who you are complaining about. This form must specify the act of alleged discrimination and must be received by the other party within 2 months’ of the incident.

The other party does not have to respond, but if he chooses to do so may use form ES2.

If the other party ignores you and does not respond within 1 month, or you are not happy with the reply, you can then refer the complaint to the WRC for adjudication. This referral must be made within 6 months of the alleged discrimination.

In due course an adjudication hearing will be heard and both parties can put their side of the story forward and the adjudicator will make a decision.

Equal Status Acts in Ireland

The relevant legislation is:

  • The Equal Status Act, 2000
  • The Equality Act, 2004
  • The Equal Status (Amendment) Act, 2012
  • The Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2015.

The Law Reform Commission has published a consolidated version of the Equal Status Acts which you can access here.