Background of Case
A UPC employee was dismissed on the grounds of serious misconduct, for breaching the company’s email usage policy for sending inappropriate and vulgar emails. Ms. Ryan was dismissed by way of a letter on 18th October 2011. The letter stated her misconduct warranted summary dismissal with immediate effect, however, UPC paid her one month’s salary.
Ms. Ryan availed of the internal appeal mechanism and appealed her dismissal. An internal appeal was held in September 2012. The reason for the delay in hearing the appeal was unknown. Following Ms. Ryan appeal hearing the decision to dismiss was upheld.
In early 2013, Ms. Ryan took an unfair dismissal claim to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the hearing was dated September 2014. UPC argued the claimant was out of the time to take an unfair dismissal claim as the dismissal letter was issued in October 2011.
The Unfair Dismissal Acts sets out time limits for taking claims. An employee has 6 months from the date of dismissal to submit a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission (previously the EAT) or 12 months if the employee can prove reasonable cause.
Importantly to note, the WRC found that in this case, the dismissal did not take effect until the appeal outcome was issued and as such the claim was taken within the six-month time limit.
The WRC referred to the employee’s contract of employment and highlighted the contracts failure to clarify the effective date of termination. As the date of termination was not expressly stated, the status of the Ms. Ryan was unclear during the appeal process which lead to Ms. Ryan believing her dismissal was pending the outcome of the appeal.
The High Court
UPC took a judicial review to the High Court following the WRC’s decision that determined the date of dismissal as the date the appeal outcome was issued.
UPC argued the WRC erred in law hearing the claim as the date of dismissal was outside the limits in the UD Act to take a claim and sought an order to restrain the tribunal from further hearing the claim.
On review of the claim by Mr. Justice McDermott, the court confirmed they agreed with the WRC’s decision. M. McDermott stated he had carefully considered the facts and submissions from both legal teams before reaching its conclusion that dismissal became effective when the appeal process concluded.
Learning Points for Employers
- It is important to ensure your disciplinary policies clearly states the effective date of termination is the date of dismissal. The Unfair Dismissal and Minimum Notice Act, state the effective date of dismissal is the date on which notice expires. If there was no ambiguity around the date of dismissal in the above case the claim would have been outside the time limit for a claim.
- Appeal procedures should be conducted in timely manner without undue delay. The fact there was a ten month delay between written notification of dismissal and the appeal being heard contributed greatly to the above claim being heard.
If you have any questions regarding dismissals please don’t hesitate to contact our advice line on 01 886 0350