Dalata was ordered to pay 50,000 euros for the dismissal of Sligo's hotel manager

Dalata was ordered to pay 50,000 euros for the dismissal of Sligo’s hotel manager

A hotel manager accused of violating his employer’s cash handling rules to make payments to employees outside the payroll has been awarded € 50,000 by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) for unfair dismissal.

The WRC found that a “threatening and condescending” letter he sent to his line manager in an attempt to “extract” a major dismissal settlement was not considered in an internal disciplinary investigation and that the allegations of petty cash did not represent a dismissal offense.

Fergal Ryan, former head of Clayton Hotel in Sligo, complained to Dalata Hotel Group plc under the Unfair Terminations Act – a complaint that was confirmed in a decision published on Thursday.

The hotel group claimed that Ryan committed a serious misconduct by approving cash payments to workers, after being warned not to do so after paying his partner, Kasia Smolinska, to cover a restaurant change on Christmas Day 2018.

The hotel group’s position was that it was “not appropriate for partners to work together” and that Smolinska had accepted a settlement to leave its employment earlier that year on the basis of this. Smolinska, in his evidence, denied agreeing to it and Ryan said he was first told that his partner would not work at the hotel in January 2019. He said that with 450 guests it would have been “chaos” if someone had not been taken in.

Sligo Clayton’s then chief operating officer Noel McLeish told the WRC that the head chef’s father had died and that he urgently needed protection. Smolinska said she had insisted on getting paid in cash.

Aaron Shearer, for Dalata, said the violations of the company’s cash policy were “repeated, gross and acknowledged” by Mr Ryan. An internal investigation revealed that after being warned by the hotel’s auditor not to use small change to pay workers, Ryan continued to make such payments to three other employees that spring.

The WRC heard that these included two carriers who received 70 euros each for having taken on extra safety tasks in February 2019, and an additional payment of 100 euros to an assistant chef who came in on Easter Day 2019.

Ryan said: “I was not aware that it was not allowed to pay cash and settle it afterwards.”

His lawyer, Barry Creed, said the allegations were only made against Ryan after his client turned down a proposed offer of severance pay in May 2019. Mr Shearer said the chairman of Dalata’s disciplinary hearing and Dermot Crowley, the appellant’s case manager – now Dalata’s CEO – had come to the conclusion that Ryan “knew what he was doing was wrong”.

The allegations of petty cash emerged in the wake of a quarrel between Ryan and his line manager Des McCann in May 2019, which ended with McCann filing a complaint about “false and outrageous allegations” in a letter from Ryan, the commission was told.

In her decision, WRC Judge Catherine Byrne found that Ryan had “no credible explanation” for taking his partner to work on Christmas Day.

“It seems to me to have paid [Ms Smolinska] in cash, the complainant tried to normalize this by paying cash to the bearers in February and to the relief chef at Easter.

Ryan’s letter to McCann “broke the trust” between them, Murphy wrote.

Another manager’s evidence was that Ryan said he would “take the company for 150,000 euros”, which “widened the gap of mistrust”, she wrote. But she noted that only the small money cases were raised in the disciplinary investigation and that a reasonable employer would not have resorted to dismissal.

She awarded € 50,000 for unfair dismissal, given Ryan’s contribution to the deal and his difficulty in finding alternative employment due to the effects of the pandemic.

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