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Covid-19 – Unfair Dismissal Award of One Year’s Salary of €37,000

The case of Christopher McDermott v NQA North Quay Associates ADJ-00028731 published on 26th October 2021 , the Workplace Relations Commission found that the complainant employee had been unfairly dismissed. The company had dismissed the complainant for providing contradictory explanations for periods of absence due to Covid-19. The company also made it clear that these contradictory messages undermined management’s belief and confidence in the complainant employee. The company was particularly worried about the Covid virus being brought into the workplace and getting contradictory responses from the complainant employee as to his status vis a vis Covid meant no chances could be taken to bring him back while the situation was unclear.

The Workplace Relations Commission noted that the dismissal was unfair and that proper and fair procedure had not been followed in dismissing the complainant. Of interest, the Adjudicator stressed the need for face to face hearings and meetings despite the pandemic. The Adjudicator stated:

Notwithstanding the difficulties created by the Covid Pandemic, the need for a hearing, face to face or even remotely, that allows for dialogue between the parties remains; it is a fundamental principle of natural justice and cannot be cast aside for expediency. Putting questions in writing and basing a decision to dismiss on the responses or lack thereof is not acceptable. An employer is obliged to go to great lengths to ensure a hearing takes place that gives the employee the opportunity to respond to the allegations made against them; patience may be required. There was no hearing in this case, despite the complainant making it clear he would have appreciated a phone call, which at the least may have crystallised the situation for him. I note the subsequent appeal of his dismissal took place over the phone. I refer to LCR UDD2137, in which the Court made it clear that before a person is judged they have a right to be heard – this right being fundamental”

Employment Law Learning

This decision makes it clear that, despite the current Covid-19 pandemic, employers should take every reasonable step to have face to face meetings (remotely or otherwise) with employees as it is crucial for the proper exchange of views in open dialogue.

Whilst it is possible to conduct meetings (grievance and disciplinary) remotely, the question must be asked as to the urgency of remote meetings or whether meetings can be held in person subject to all necessary Covid-19 precautions being in place.

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