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WRC Rules in Favor of Tech Firm Founder, Awarding Record €440,000 for Unfair Dismissal

Tech company Hyph Ireland Ltd, formerly known as Xhail Ireland Ltd, has been directed to pay €464,000 to Mick Kiely, the founder who was removed from his position within the company, in a record-breaking compensation package by the Workplace Relations Commission. This sum includes €440,000 for loss of earnings and an additional €24,000 for notice pay.

Impact of non-compete clause:

The dispute arose after Mick Kiely, a musician, composer, and entrepreneur, was removed from his position as CEO in 2021. With a substantial annual salary of €340,000, Kiely pursued statutory complaints against the company, arguing unfair dismissal.

The WRC ruled in favour of Kiely, emphasising the significant efforts he made to establish himself in business within just 17 months following his dismissal. Kiely’s earnings remained significantly reduced due to the non-compete clause imposed by the company. A “non-compete clause imposed by the company” refers to a contractual agreement that restricts an individual from engaging in competing activities, typically within a specified geographic area or industry, for a certain period after leaving the company.

Unfair Dismissal and Dispute:

The company’s dismissal of Kiely was deemed unfair, as it was based on an allegation related to his visa status not complying with US law. On 19 November 2021, the company’s chief of staff informed him via email that he was “no longer an employee” and was “prohibited from accessing or entering Xhail premises by any means”. “Please understand it will be considered trespassing if you do so, and Xhail will not treat such an unlawful act mildly,” the chief of staff wrote. Mr. Kiely stated he had been “locked out” of the company’s premises by the following day, with all access to company systems and his emails “blocked” since then.

The core issue in dispute revolved around the extent of financial losses incurred by Kiely following his dismissal. The company had acknowledged beforehand that his employment contract was subject to Irish law and that the dismissal was unfair. Despite efforts to establish alternative sources of income, the tribunal heard the complainant made around €10,000 in 2022 by operating a holiday business in Co Clare, and a further €2,000 as an artist.

Tribunal Decision:

The company, represented by legal counsel, argued that Kiely had failed to mitigate his losses adequately due to his inactivity. They suggested that Kiely could have explored opportunities outside his usual scope of interest to mitigate financial losses effectively.

Despite the challenges posed by the non-compete clause, Kiely’s efforts to establish a new business were commendable, leading Adjudicator Brian Dalton to acknowledge his entrepreneurial spirit and determination. Consequently, Kiely was granted €440,000 for lost earnings and an additional €24,000 for notice pay, resulting in the highest-ever dismissal compensation awarded under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977.