A pharmacist who refused to transfer to another company outlet in a neighbouring Kildare town after her branch closed has secured a redundancy lump sum worth over €22,000 after a ruling that she was entitled not to move.
The Workplace Relations Commission rejected Lloyds Pharmacy Ireland's argument that its former employee, supervising pharmacist Fiona Rabbitte, had rejected a "perfectly reasonable alternative to redundancy" in offering a move from Newbridge to Naas.
Ms Rabbitte’s legal team argued that Lloyds’ move to close its branch in Newbridge in 23 June 2022 triggered a redundancy entitlement for their client – while the firm disputed that her employment of 18 years had been terminated.
The complainant told the WRC she had worked at the Lloyds branch in Newbridge since November 2003 said she was asked to move to its Naas branch in January 2022, which she refused.
The tribunal heard that after Ms Rabbitte was informed in March that year that the Newbridge shop was to close, she wrote to the firm asking it to set out the terms of her redundancy, only to be told her role was not at risk.
After further discussions with the firm, she had her representatives write in and state that she considered herself to have been made redundant by operation of law, and seeking the payment of statutory redundancy.
Ms Rabbitte said the Newbridge branch location was "particularly advantageous" to her in her domestic life and said much of her daily routine was based around the place of work, as it was "so close to home".
The job in Naas was "not suitable" because of the "significant traffic congestion" from school runs in the mornings and afternoon and that this would mean "hundreds of hours per year" longer in commuting time.
She said she also feared she would not be able to get to her children's schools on short notice if she was needed.
The firm’s representative, HR agent Brendan McCarthy of Stratis Consulting, argued that going to Naas would only have extended Ms Rabbitte’s commute by "just over ten minutes".
He said a once-off compensation sum was offered for the travel time and that the employer also offered to review Ms Rabbitte’s work patterns to "ease the transition".
It was "a perfectly reasonable alternative to redundancy, and the complainant’s failure to accept [it] disentitled her to a redundancy payment," Mr McCarthy submitted.
He also said Ms Rabbitte’s contract had an "express mobility clause".
The complainant’s barrister, Paul Twomey BL, instructed by Myles Staunton & Co Solicitors, said the clause had been "misquoted" by the firm, as they sought to rely on it "without the crucial stipulation that such a move must be with the complainant’s consent".
In his decision, adjudicating officer Brian Dolan noted that the closure of the complainant’s workplace was "expressly" listed as a scenario giving rise to a statutory redundancy payment – unless there was a suitable alternative offered, and the worker had "unreasonably" refused it.
He wrote that the case law in the area held that the alternative role had to be considered on an objective basis, but that the decision on whether or not to take it was "personal" to the worker and a subjective matter.
It was "reasonable in the circumstances" for Ms Rabbitte to refuse, he wrote.
"Her evidence regarding her rationale for selecting this place of work is perfectly reasonable, as is her reluctance to introduce a significant amount of commuting into her daily life," Mr Dolan wrote.
He found that the complainant was entitled to statutory redundancy calculated on the basis of over 18 years’ service and weekly