A former Debenhams worker who was refused statutory redundancy will now get the payment after the Workplace Relations Commission found a Department of Social Protection official was wrong to say she had too little service to be eligible.

The Social Protection deciding officer had come to the conclusion that the sales advisor at the shuttered retailer was three weeks short of the two-year threshold for a redundancy because she got the Pandemic Unemployment Payment for seven weeks between the start of the first lockdown and the ending of her employment.

Sarah Sheehan said she was "dissatisfied" with this ruling and took a complaint under the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 against the Department of Social Protection to challenge it.

Ms Sheehan had worked for 12 hours a week between 26 April 2018 and 23 March 2020, when the store was closed temporarily because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She was paid for her normal contracted hours up to the end of March that year before being put on layoff from 1 April to 20 April, when she was in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, the WRC heard.

Liquidators were appointed to Debenhams Retail (Ireland) Ltd on 16 April 2020, and Ms Sheehan's employment with the firm ended four days later.

The Department of Social Protection took the position that in order to qualify for a statutory redundancy payment, Ms Sheehan had to be in insurable employment for a minimum of 104 weeks.

It told the Workplace Relations Commission that Ms Sheehan only had 100 weeks of service up to the date she was laid off.

Her time receiving PUP could not be considered reckonable service for the purposes of a redundancy payment, it claimed.

It was on that basis that the Department’s deciding officer sent a "disallowance letter" to Ms Sheehan, it said.

The complainant’s trade union rep, Robert McNamara of Mandate, said his client disputed the finding that she had less than 104 weeks’ service.

He argued that her employment relationship had continued past the date of layoff.

Adjudicating officer Orla Jones agreed with the complainant’s position.

"The respondent… appears to be conflating 'reckonable service’ and ‘continuity of service’," she wrote.

She added that the legislation on redundancy "does not contain any reference to ‘reckonable service’ and so it is only continuous service which is referred to and it is clear from the legislation that the period of lay off does not affect or break this continuity".

Although Ms Sheehan’s layoff period had to be excluded when it came to calculating how much she was entitled to, it had to be included in determining the duration of her employment to decide whether or not she had passed the threshold.

"The complainant in this case by virtue of her employment start date and end date and including the period of lay off while on the PUP has attained the 104 weeks continuous service," she wrote.

Ms Jones found the complainant "had established an entitlement to a redundancy payment" and upheld her appeal and said she should now be paid statutory redundancy by the Department of Social Protection.

The value of the redundancy payment was not disclosed.