A sales executive has been awarded over €329,000 for unfair dismissal after being sacked without a formal warning over bullying allegations. The award is the largest ever made by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), and more than double the previous record award.

Why was the employee dismissed in the first place?

In March 2021, the employee submitted a claim under the Unfair Dismissals Act and the Payment of Wages Act against the company (remained unnamed). The employee had worked for the company since December, 2016 and was promoted in April 2019. However the employee was dismissed in September 2019 on the grounds of serious misconduct after he was accused of bullying.

Two formal complaints were made against the employee in late May and early June, 2019, leading to an investigation and then a disciplinary process. The disciplinary process revealed the employee’s behaviour was continually bullying, intimidating and manipulative despite the sales executive being given multiple opportunities to improve his behaviour. 

How did the employee win the Unfair Dismissal case?

Despite having an employee handbook in place, the employer’s lack of compliance led the employee to win the case. Whilst there was a disciplinary process carried out, no formal warning was issued, contrary to the terms of the employee handbook. The precise grounds for dismissal were “unclear in the dismissal letter” and “did not explain what behaviour was either ‘aggressive’ or ‘extreme’, according to the employee.

Additionally, it was disclosed that the employee was dismissed via phone call, and was informed that both his employment was terminated and his appeal was unsuccessful via email. The adjudication officer stated that the employee should have been offered the decency of a face-to-face meeting. 

Why was the payout so high?

In an Unfair Dismissal’s case, the amount of compensation the employee will be awarded will depend on the length of time it took them to find alternative employment after the dismissal and if this alternative employment was of equal or less remuneration of their employee’s former job.  Again, the law allows an award up to a maximum of two year’s ‘loss of earnings’.

For this case, the employee reported that it took him 22 months to find a job as his job is in a ‘niche sector’. The employee also stated that there was an ‘obvious reluctance’ among potential employees to offer a matched position as they were made aware of the reasons for the termination of his employment through word of mouth or when informed during interviews. Therefore, the employee was awarded 75% of his total financial loss suffered.

What does this case highlight to employers?

This record-breaking case reinforces the importance of employers following the correct procedures when dismissing an employee. Despite this employer having an employee handbook stating the dismissal procedure, it was not correctly enacted so the legal outcome fell in the favour of the employee. Additionally, this case demonstrates how there is a wealth of legislation to protect the employee in comparison to the employer. 

If fellow employers were to take away any pointers from this case, it would be to ensure they have formal contracts of employment and correct policies/procedures in place. The dismissal policy should clearly state the terms and conditions of both the employee and employer if the situation were to arise.