A housekeeper who spent more than 20 years working at the official residence of the Brazilian ambassador to Ireland has secured an order for over €21,000 for unfair dismissal.
The Workplace Relations Commission found there was a "near absence" of fair procedures in her sacking, which came after the failure to reach agreement over the removal of a housing clause from her contract.
Alessandra Quinn's claim under the Unfair Dismissals Act against the Embassy of Brazil was upheld by the Workplace Relations Commission in a decision published this morning.
The tribunal was told Ms Quinn moved to Ireland in 2001 as part of the household of the diplomat appointed to lead the mission at that time.
The ambassador’s residence was then a large property with a two-bedroom mews house, where Ms Quinn took up residence alongside the embassy cook.
Ms Quinn’s first employment contract reflected this with a clause providing for room and board, though the embassy’s solicitor Gerard Lambe submitted that his client had no such clause in any other employment contract it ever signed.
He said Ms Quinn married an Irishman, altering her visa status, and moved out.
That meant Ms Quinn was no longer "connected to the respondent" as an embassy household domestic, it was submitted.
She kept the use of the mews house at the official residence for overnight stays during the week for "convenience", Mr Lambe said, but the room and board clause in her contract was "not changed to reflect that new circumstance".
Mr Lambe argued that one of the reasons Ms Quinn kept the use of the room in the mews property was to work after hours in neighbouring properties.
In March 2021, the ambassador moved house to a "substantially" cheaper property which had no space to house employees.
The embassy proposed to alter the employment contracts of both the cook and Ms Quinn by removing the room clause.
The cook took a lump sum and retired, Mr Lambe said, but Ms Quinn rejected a proposal made in "good faith" to raise her salary and pay commuting expenses, the tribunal was told.
"The proposed salary increase was reasonable and corresponded to the maximum admissible under budgetary rules and the salary scheme and policy governing the contracts of local hired staff," Mr Lambe added.
He said Ms Quinn was "highly regarded and well liked by the Ambassadors who were her bosses and by colleagues at the embassy" and that the embassy made "all possible efforts to resolve the matter to the mutual satisfaction".
"In the circumstances, unfortunately, the respondent had no alternative but to terminate her employment contract," Mr Lambe added.
Solicitor Gerald Kean, who appeared for Ms Quinn, said the losing the room was "very significant" as it meant Ms Quinn "had to live out", make a commute and incur transport and utilities expenses.
His client's position was that there was no "adequate proposal" to compensate for these expenses with a salary increase, he said.
She was then told in May 2021 that her job was to be terminated that July "as she had not accepted the respondent’s offer".
Mr Kean said his client was "aggrieved at the way her employment ended, though she does not blame any one individual".
In his decision, adjudicating officer Roger McGrath accepted the embassy’s proposals to Ms Quinn were in "good faith" but that the diplomatic mission was "constrained in what it could do under budgetary rules and the salary scheme governing the contracts of local staff".
However, he found that the embassy had failed to show "substantial grounds" justifying Ms Quinn’s dismissal and that there was a "near absence" of fair and proper procedures.
He found the complaint to be well-founded and awarded Ms Quinn €21,793 for her seven months’ lost earnings before she was able to secure a new job.
A second statutory complaint under the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 was rejected, with Mr McGrath finding that no redundancy situation existed as a replacement had been hired to fill Ms Quinn’s former role.