The recent Workplace Relations Commission ("WRC") decision by Adjudication Officer ("AO") Breffni O'Neill, represents the largest award to an employee to date. The Adjudication Officer awarded €329,000 in compensation for  unfair dismissal in the Irish case of A Sales Executive v A Software Company [ADJ - 00027573]. In our case analysis we look at the backdrop to this very significant award of compensation. Why was the award so high? In summary, this was because:

  • The awards under the Unfair Dismissals Acts are designed to compensate for financial loss. The employee was highly paid.
  • The employee was unemployed for 22 months after the dismissal. He was awarded €329,199 representing 75% of his loss.
  • The AO observed that the employee had worked in a niche sector and he had suffered reputational damage which made it difficult to secure another role.
  • The employee had looked for reinstatement of his employment as the preferred outcome of his claim. He did not succeed in this because of the evidence breakdown in the relationship between the two parties.

The key lessons learned from this decision (which may be appealed) are:

  • The key criticisms by the AO relate to the absence of impartiality of the Disciplinary Chair due to previous involvement in managing performance. This meant that he could not be "impartial" or "independent" in the opinion of the AO. A person tasked with decision making in disciplinary matters must, as far as is possible within the employer's business, be impartial so that the employee has a fair hearing.
  • The AO also concluded that there was evidence that the employer had previously tolerated conduct (alleged bullying behaviour) and that now made it difficult to justify imposing a serious sanction such as dismissal for repeat conduct.
  • It is important to rigorously assess whether dismissal which is a penalty of "last resort" is in fact appropriate and proportionate in any given situation.
  • The bar for running a scrupulously fair disciplinary procedure is set very high. Compliance with the employer's own procedures as well as the principles of due process is critical.