The company behind the well-known Dublin bars and nightclubs Odeon, Dakota and 4 Dame Lane has been ordered to pay a former bookkeeper €6,900 in compensation for unfairly dismissing her during lockdown.
The adjudicating officer in the case found it to be an "inexplicable failure" by the company not to pay her statutory redundancy after telling her that her job was gone.
The Workplace Relations Commission made the compensation order against Bolway Investments Ltd following complaints by Amy Meredith under the Unfair Dismissals Act and the Redundancy Payments Act.
Having been on temporary layoff for over a year due to the public health controls restricting trade in the hospitality sector, Ms Meredith said she informed her employer in April 2021 that she was pregnant.
She told the company she would be "happy to help if they opened up" in advance of her starting her maternity leave but received no reply until she put in a further inquiry after seeing a post on Instagram indicating one of the bars had opened up again.
"They’d opened Dakota without letting me know," she said.
She again asked whether her position was back between October and December that year, following her maternity leave.
Ms Meredith said she spoke with the WRC’s helpline and was advised that if her job was gone, she was entitled to redundancy and notice pay.
But when she put the question of her statutory entitlements to the firm in November 2021, she was told: "No, we don’t have a contract here for you."
She said she had never been issued with a contract of employment by the company and that the manager she spoke with was looking for an "invisible" document which "didn’t exist".
She asked for pay in lieu of annual leave for her last year at work and got it in December 2021, she said – but never a statutory redundancy payment.
Finally she wrote again to the firm in January this year offering to come in to work again in March, as soon as her youngest daughter was old enough to be sent to creche – but was told there "was no job".
Asked by the adjudicating officer whether she would be willing to go back to work for the same company, she said: "I wouldn’t be in a rush."
"if they treated me like that once, what excuse would you get really. I went to them after the pandemic hoping to go back to work and it just got shoved back in my face," she said.
No representative of the company appeared to defend the complaint at a hearing in August at the WRC headquarters at Lansdowne House, Dublin 4.
Adjudicating officer Breiffni O'Neill wrote in his decision that he was satisfied there had been a redundancy situation at the nightclub group as Ms Meredith had not presented any other grounds for her dismissal at the hearing.
He found the company’s non-payment of statutory redundancy to be an "inexplicable failure".
Mr O’Neill wrote that there was clear precedent in cases where redundancy was presented as the reason for termination that it "must not only meet the definition of the term but it must also be shown that the complainant was fairly dismissed".
He noted that the nightclub group had failed to "adequately consult and engage" with Ms Meredith, failed to apply any selection criteria for her redundancy, and provided no avenue for appeal.
"Such a process could have given her the opportunity to defend her future employment and highlight her willingness to work in alternative roles," Mr O’Neill wrote.
He found that Ms Meredith had been unfairly dismissed and awarded €6,900 for her financial losses.
He dismissed her claim for redundancy as being mutually exclusive to the unfair dismissal complaint.