Constructive Dismissal

In a recent WRC decision (ADJ – 00002854) an Adjudication Officer held that an employee had been constructively dismissed despite the fact that she had not exhausted the use of internal grievance procedures which is normally a requirement for a successful constructive dismissal claim. An award of €15,528 was made.

The Complainant who was a receptionist in a Distribution Company resigned by email on 12 February 2016 having worked in the Company since December 2014. Some difficulties arose with interpersonal relationships in January 2016 following the promotion of a colleague to the position of Office Manager and a meeting was held on 22nd January with the Complainant and her two colleagues to review the “frosty atmosphere”. The Complainant said she accepted that her colleague had been promoted and was getting on with her work, but that she wished it had been communicated in a better manner. A request by the Complainant to change her working hours to facilitate attendance at college was then refused by the Managing Director. The Operations Manager subsequently apologized for the poor communication about the office moves and promotion.

The Complainant was then invited to a review meeting on 12th February by the Operations Manager and advised that she could bring a witness to the meeting. The Complainant was advised at the meeting that the Company had a problem with her performance over the last four weeks and they had decided to terminate her employment with three months notice. The Complainant was also offered help with her CV, references and time off. The Complainant said the Operations Manager didn’t want to discuss it further but did agree to meet her the following week. The Complainant said it was also clearly suggested to her that it would be better to hand in her notice immediately. The Complainant said she felt she had been ambushed into a disciplinary meeting and went home and resigned by email, which was accepted.

The employer contended following their refusal to change the Complainant’s working hours her behaviour towards her colleagues changed and she adopted a work to rule approach and they had no option but to invite her to an investigation meeting on February 12th to review her unacceptable behaviour. The employer further contended that it had been her own decision to resign.

The Adjudication Officer found that there were inconsistencies in the employer’s evidence with regard to the purpose of the two meetings held on January 29th and February 12th, and that the meeting on February 12th had been totally misrepresented as a review meeting. In addition there were no minutes of the meeting taken or made available. The Adjudication Officer outlined that the manner in which the meeting was held was  “a serious departure from the principles of natural justice and fair procedures” and there was no foundation for the meeting and the Complainant did not know in advance what it was about. The Adjudication Officer said that it was not fatal to the Complainant’s case that she had not used the grievance procedure and the employer’s behaviour in the early part of 2016 and particularly during the meeting on February 12th had broken the mutual bond of trust that is required between an employer and an employee, therefore entitling the employee to constructively dismiss herself. The Complainant was awarded six months salary.