AN OFFICE MANAGER who was wrongly portrayed as “an employee from hell” by her employer has been awarded just under €160,000 for her unfair dismissal.
The Workplace Relations Commission determined the payout – one of its highest awards to date – over the woman’s sacking in July of last year.
The manager had provided unstinting loyalty to her employer – a small family-run drugs company – for over 30 years, the commission heard.
However, her working life went rapidly downhill after her boss died and his wife took an active role in the day-to-day running of the business. No parties are named in the ruling.
The adjudication officer in the case, Michael Hayes, said: “It is simply not credible that the complainant turned into the employee from hell, as submitted by the respondent, having given 30 years of unimpeachable service to the point at which it is alleged she acted in such an offensive and reprehensible manner.”
In her complaint, the woman said that she helped the widow of her late boss in running the business “but despite best effort she found her working relationship with the now major shareholder difficult”.
The woman shared her misgivings with the lady’s son, who was himself a director of the company – but no action was forthcoming.
Accordingly, due to the unhappy working environment and the effect on her health, she said she was left with no alternative but to lodge a formal grievance in the matter.
He complaints ranged from bullying to issues regarding the safety of the work environment. As a direct result, the woman was summarily dismissed from her employment by letter on 11 July 2016.
The woman claimed she was penalised in breach of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 Act.
In response, the woman’s employer claimed she was not penalised under the act, but rather as a consequence of a breakdown in the relationship between her and the principal employer in a small family-run business.
The firm stated that the late owner’s widow “found the complainant to be difficult to manage and increasingly uncooperative”.
‘Difficult to manage’
The firm alleged that the office manager “took long breaks and her attendance practices became increasingly unacceptable”.
The employer also stated that the office manager’s “expectations in respect of annual leave were unreasonable and she refused to engage with the principal employer to constructively address operational issues”.
The company alleged that the woman “was defensive and argumentative and a very bad atmosphere developed, which worsened after December 2015”.
The employer said that she was found herself unable to manage and wanted to terminate the claimant’s employment.
The firm said the woman was issued with a verbal warning in May 2016 after which she absented her-self from work alleging she was suffering from work-related stress.
Hayes said there was no written record of the verbal warning and the employee denied she received one.
The firm told the WRC hearing that “the employer, in the person of the principal and her sons, was by then deeply frustrated with the claimant’s behaviour and attitude to work”.
The company stated: “Her absence from work confirmed that, for them, they could manage without her and that the atmosphere had improved in her absence and took the decision to terminate her employment. The question of health and safety or the claimant’s expressed concerns were not factors in the decision.”
The woman’s salary was €1,228.50 and she worked 39 hours per week.
In his ruling, Hayes said he found it significant that the dismissal was effected within two weeks of the date of the letter of complaint from the office manager.
Hayes said the contention by the employer that “the question of health and safety or the claimant’s concerns were not factors in the decision is not credible and I find that the dismissal in this case therefore amounted to penalisation within the meaning of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act”.