A Waterford businessman’s hotel company has been ordered to pay the hotel owner’s sister the maximum allowable compensation, of € 21,843, for her “cruel” unfair dismissal.
At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Judge Patsy Doyle has ordered Seamus Walsh-owned Waterford Castle Hotel and Golf Club Limited to pay Bernadette Walsh a total of € 23,808 for five workplace violations, including unfair dismissal.
In connection with the unfair dismissal of Walsh when she was on sick leave in September 2019, Doyle commented that “this dismissal is a manifestation of a zero culture of fair proceedings or natural justice.
Ms Walsh had left a $ 100,000 job in the Bahamas to return to her brother’s resort business in March 2015 on a minimum wage of € 16,000 a year and had roles as resort manager, corporate director and later CEO.
Ms Walsh returned to Ireland after her brother, Seamus, bought the hotel facility, located on a private island, from Nama for a reported € 6 million.
In 2019, Walsh requested a salary increase of € 49,000 to € 65,000 per year.
Ms Walsh’s lawyer, David Gaffney, stated that Ms Walsh was concerned about the number of hours she spent in the business.
Ms Walsh told the hearing that she adopted a “girl Friday persona” and filled in where the post was required.
The remote WRC hearing heard that Walsh’s request for a pay rise was rejected by her brother, Seamus Walsh, who is mainly based in Melbourne, Australia and did not attend the WRC hearing.
Now that she lives and works in the United States, Walsh said at the hearing that she worked an average of six days a week monitoring all aspects of the business and this included a three-hour engagement on Sundays.
At the hearing, Ms Walsh denied the existence of family conflict.
Ms Walsh told the hearing that she had been “shocked” by her dismissal in September 2019.
Ms Walsh stated that she had tried to present the matter for her hours and salary at a meeting on 20 August 2019, with Mr Walsh, but the meeting started on salaries and then went over to operational issues with Mr Walsh allegedly telling her that she ” was the biggest problem; you are too straight “.
Ms Walsh said that after being fired, she had lived on her savings and benefits for job seekers before she got a new job in March 2021.
The chief financial officer of the company, Louise Hurley, described a “breach in staff relations” between Ms Walsh and Mr Walsh which in August 2019 had “quite a detrimental effect on the business”.
A witness for the company, Mrs Hurley, stated that Ms Walsh had refrained from talking to Mr Walsh, which she said “was inappropriate from an operational point of view”.
Ms Hurley stated that during her employment Ms Walsh had full operation of a luxury lodge with three bedrooms in addition to a company car and the company put a value of € 4,800 per year on the accommodation.
The hotel company accepted that an unfair dismissal had taken place and at the hearing the company claimed that Walsh’s salary of 16,000 euros was designed as a threshold for tax purposes.
The company accepted that there was no material justification for Ms Walsh’s dismissal and that it did not adopt a reasonable dismissal procedure in relation to the complainant’s dismissal.
The company stated that Walsh, as an explanation rather than an apology, experienced operational difficulties as a result of Ms Walsh’s employment, growing family conflict and that the family conflict seeped into corporate issues within the company.
The company stated that these questions informed Walsh’s decision to dismiss Walsh.
In her findings, Doyle found that when she unfairly fired Walsh, “the company broke its own procedures when they summarily fired the highest-ranked and lowest-paid member of the management team.”
Doyle further said that the effect of the decision to dismiss Walsh “in such a summary judgment style was cruel and pointed to the fact that the letter of resignation reflects the following phrase:” This decision is not in any way a reflection of your competence or ability. Thank you for your service and loyalty, but at the end of one month from the date of this letter, your employment with us will end. “
Doyle further found that the hotel company “violated all rules of due process and natural justice at the termination on September 2, 2019”.
Doyle stated that the decision “was a unilateral measure that was not channeled through the board and on the balance of probabilities reflected operational concerns” which was signaled by Hurley’s reference to Walsh and Walsh not speaking.
Ms Doyle stated that the operational problems were not specified by the hotel company and Ms Walsh did not have time to deal with things that needed to be improved.
Doyle also found that the then acting company director Ms Walsh “was unfairly dismissed and that the dismissal was disproportionate and without stated reasons”.
Ms Doyle also found that the case “requires that I do justice to the parties when applying the maximum compensation I receive, as there are no sustainable ways to return to business in this case”.
Earlier in the results, Doyle stated that she “found it unusual for someone to leave a $ 100,000 job in the sun for a minimum wage and a vague variation in title positions at a family hotel”.
Ms Doyle stated that she appreciated that the company was rescued from Nama or bankruptcy law, “but I discovered early in the case a shortcoming due to the business which seemed to be home to a high rate of departures of key people and changed titles”.
Doyle stated that the parties presented “a very unusual employment relationship with the WRC”, and stated that Walsh was simply appointed to the role of family protector.
Doyle stated that none of the pre-employment rituals were followed, such as an interview, employment checks, a visible match of the candidate for the job or an introduction.
In addition to € 21,843 for unfair dismissal, Doyle also awarded € 750 for an annual leave; € 600 for two rest periods; and € 615.30 for a notice of breach of employment.
Doyle noted that, referring to the clear family ties in the case and the sensitivities that can come into an employment relationship, the parties offered time at the beginning of the hearing if they wanted to discuss issues.
She said: “The parties took advantage of the time but did not record a mutually acceptable solution and the matter proceeded as planned.”
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