The Workplace Relations Commission recently awarded a teacher just short of one year's salary after it found that the teacher was "sent packing with no regard to the requirements of law".

Background

On 26 August 2016 a TEFL teacher was asked to attend a meeting with the school's financial controller. During this meeting she was told that her role was being made redundant with effect from 31 August 2016 and that she would be paid in lieu of her three months' notice. The redundancy was also confirmed in writing that day. The teacher, however, only received her payment in lieu of notice five months after her dismissal and her statutory redundancy payment nearly seven months after her dismissal.

The school submitted that there was a genuine redundancy. Due to a significant reduction in the number of international boarders enrolling in the school, it had decided to make the TEFL role, which was a stand-alone role, redundant. The school stated that there were no appropriate alternative vacancies and no-one had been employed in the TEFL role since her departure. The financial controller admitted that there had been no discussion or consultation with the teacher and that he had not advised her of the reason for the meeting on 26 August. The financial controller also acknowledged that the redundancy payment should have been paid sooner but that a heavy workload contributed to the delay in payment.

The teacher submitted that there was no genuine redundancy situation, the decision was predetermined and that she was dismissed due to ongoing issues, including a grievance she raised in May and concerns she raised regarding the health and safety of students. The teacher also raised a number of alleged breaches of procedure, including that (i) she was given no notification of the redundancy, (ii) she was given no opportunity to bring a representative and (iii) there was no consultation regarding the process.

Decision

The Adjudication Officer ("AO") was not convinced that there was a genuine redundancy situation. The AO also noted that the teacher had been treated dismally in light of the lack of process and procedures. He noted that there was no notice of redundancy, no consultation, no discussion on alternative positions, no proper process and that the lack of any appeal mechanism was "particularly telling". The AO concluded by saying that the teacher had all in all "been treated shabbily". While the teacher requested re-instatement as redress, the AO felt that compensation was a more suitable form of redress as the relationship had been damaged and no suitable position existed in the school for the teacher. It awarded the teacher €34,060 taking into account her statutory redundancy payment of €11, 400. (The compensation and redundancy payment amounted to one year's salary).

Comment

If an employer is preparing for a potential redundancy, it is vital that the employer considers whether the role is genuinely redundant and understands the redundancy process that it will need to follow.

This case highlights that even where the employer feels that there is a clear-cut genuine redundancy situation for a stand-alone role and that there are no alternatives to the redundancy, the employer will be open to the risk of an unfair dismissal claim if (i) it does not have a well documented business case for the redundancy and (ii) an open and transparent redundancy process is not followed. Depending on the circumstances, the employer may also need to offer the opportunity to appeal the decision to make the role redundant and specific advice should be sought on this.