The Employment Appeals Tribunal (the EAT) has directed a retail employer to pay €10,000 to a sales advisor after it found that the claimant's dismissal was procedurally unfair. The case reiterates the important principle that even where an employer may have a strong case on the substantive point, failure to follow fair procedures will be fatal to the case.

The substantive issue in the case concerned competency grounds and performance management issues. From an employer's perspective, performance management issues can be difficult terrain to navigate as there is no prescribed statutory process for managing same. Termination of employment for competency reasons is a permitted ground of dismissal but not one that is easy to establish or indeed defend.

In this case, the claimant was employed as a sales advisor for approximately 5 years. Prior to her dismissal, the respondent employer had placed her on a performance management programme designed to try and "ameliorate" the work of the claimant. Her work was viewed to be deficient both in terms of competence and conduct.

In the six months prior to her dismissal, she became the subject of disciplinary discussions and a review of her performance (of which the performance improvement plan was part). The respondent alleged it had given the claimant every chance to improve but she had not done so.

The EAT noted that on the day of the final meeting, the respondent took the decision to dismiss and prepared the letter to dismiss all within 10 minutes. The EAT found that on foot of this the dismissal was procedurally unfair as fair procedure were not offered.  It also found that the claimant did contribute to her dismissal and took this into account in determining the level of the award.

The case doesn’t elaborate on whether the respondent's approach to the performance management issues would have ultimately succeeded in its entirety but demonstrates the fundamental necessity of fair procedures and how a failure to comply with same will prove detrimental to an employer's case.