Unfair dismissal and constructive dismissal cases can prove very expensive for employers, not to mention traumatic occasions for employees.
Unfair dismissal in Ireland is governed by the Unfair Dismissals Act 1993 and two points need to be made about this legislation at the outset-
1. an employer must have substantial grounds for dismissing an employee
2. in doing so the employer must apply fair procedures to the process.
The Unfair Dismissals Act covers people who have been in employment for at least 52 weeks continuous service. Employees who are not covered include FAS trainees, members of the Defence Forces and Gardai and civil servants.
It may seem blindingly obvious but only employees may use the legislation in respect of a termination of employment-sub contractors for example would not be covered.
An employee may succeed in a claim for constructive dismissal in circumstances where the employee resigns the employment as a result of the employer’s conduct towards the employee.
Circumstances giving rise to this situation include a reduction in pay, a deterioration in the working environment, change of job roles, unwarranted warnings, change of location of the job and many others. Not all of these situations will always give rise to a successful claim for constructive dismissal but these are the kinds of things that employers must be very careful about if they don’t want to end up in the Employment Appeals Tribunal.
However employees on probation up to a period of one year are excluded from the protection of the legislation.
Unfair Dismissal Categories
There are a number of categories of dismissals which the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 and 1993 deem to be automatically unfair.
1. trade union membership
2. the colour, race or sexual orientation of the employee
3. the employee’s religious or political opinions
4. where the employee is involved in legal action against the employer
5. the employee’s age
6. the fact that the employee is a member of the traveling community
7. the employee becoming pregnant
8. the employee taking part in industrial action.
These are the main grounds which the legislation deems to give rise to an unfair dismissal claim and are deemed by the law to be automatically unfair.
The employer has a defence in the form of redundancy but he must be able to show that the employee has been fairly selected for redundancy. However if the employer seeks to employ the redundancy defence he can expect that if an unfair claim is made against him he will find that his redundancy defence is put under a fair degree of scrutiny.
For example, it is not enough that the employer can show that his workforce numbers requirement is expected to decline sometime in the future-he must be able to show that is requirements will lower in the very near future to the redundancy that he has just carried out.
The Employment Appeals Tribunal is very strong on fair procedure in relation to the termination of an employee’s job; they have held many times in the past that if they find that fair procedure was not followed then they will deem the dismissal to be unfair, regardless of the circumstances.