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Unfair Dismissal due to ambiguity in contract and legitimate expectation

Although a relatively short decision the recent case of Daniel Monk v Thurles Greyhound Racing and Sports Association Limited UD 410/2011 MN 396/2011 highlights the importance for employers of ensuring the terms and conditions of employment are properly drafted and reviewed to suit the needs of the business. A simple error in this case cost the employer €12,000.BackgroundThe Claimant in this case was employed as a general and racing manager of a greyhound track. The Claimant was initially employed on a six month contract and then given a further two year specific contract dated 1st January 2009 to expire at the end of 2010. Although the contract was for a fixed term of two years, due to a typographical error it stated that the expiry date was 31st December 2011. A director for the Respondent stated that it was a two year contract because the business wanted to keep its options open and return to a two manager situation if things did not work out.The Board subsequently wrote to the Claimant on 22nd December 2010 giving him notice and advising him that his contract was not being renewed in 2011. It was decided by the Respondent board to revert to a position where two managers would be used, one racing and one commercial as the commercial side of the business was suffering. The Claimant did not apply for either job when advertised as he felt the job should have been offered to him and he had already initiated his unfair dismissal claim.DeterminationThe Tribunal noted that there were patent ambiguities in the Claimant’s contract of employment in relation to the date of termination and the duration of the contract. The Tribunal determined that the Claimant had a legitimate expectation that he had a three year contract ending on 31st December 2011 and their view was bolstered by the fact that the contract contained provisions more appropriate to a contract of indefinite duration.In taking the provisions of Section 13 of the Unfair Dismissal Act 1977 (as amended) into account, the Tribunal found that the Claimant was unfairly dismissed and awarded the Claimant the sum of €13,000 under the Unfair Dismissal Act 1977 (as amended).

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