Most businesses strive to create a workplace whereby work colleagues work well together, support one another and work as a team. However, issues can arise so what can happen when these issues are ignored, escalate and continue to fester over time?
In the case of Senior Buying Manager vs Wholesale Distributor (ADJ-00018564), the intimidating and bullying behaviour of the Office Manager towards the Senior Buyer and the lack of intervention by the Director who was their line manager is a costly lesson, to the tune of €20K. The complainant resigned as they felt they had no other recourse but to leave and subsequently took a constructive dismissal case under the Unfair Dismissals Act.
Background to the case
The complainant was employed as a Senior Buyer from 1 July 2015 until 22 June 2018 when they resigned from their role. When they commenced employment their line manager was the Company Director who is based in the UK.
The initial issue arose between the Senior Buyer and the Office Manager when an organisational chart was circulated. It showed that the Senior Buyer reported directly to the Office Manager. He disputed this and sought clarification from the Director, who confirmed that he did not report to the Office Manager. The organisational chart was not updated to reflect this inaccuracy despite the fact that the employee reminded the Director of this on many occasions.
In January 2018 the employee had an accident and hospitalised. They were out of work for nine weeks and they were not given sick pay as this was at the discretion of management. The Office Manager made the decision to take him off the payroll and the Director did not intervene on this issue or contact the employee during their absence.
When the employee returned to work, he asked for paid time off to attend hospital appointments as part of their recovery. This was refused by the Office Manager despite the employee being on a salary. The adjudicator commented in their findings that this “frankly appears to be capricious and vindictive”. Again, his line manager, the Director ignored the complaints on this issue.
Another issue that arose was the allocation of work, initially some tasks were passed on to a PA which eased the burden from the employee but at a later stage he was asked to take on her tasks as she was going on maternity leave and he refused. The Office Manager threatened that his future pay and bonuses will be impacted if he did not take on the additional duties. At this stage the complainant reached out to the Director to come over from the UK and intervene. The meeting resulted in the issues being momentarily resolved, however, in actuality the situation continued to deteriorate until the Senior Buyer resigned.
The adjudicator in summing up the case found in favour of the Senior Buyer and whilst the Office Manager stated that there was a grievance and disputes policy, this was never actively offered to the employee. In addition, his actual line manager ignored his resignation letter and the numerous issues that arose. The adjudicator stated that “the complainant made a sustained effort to make the Respondent aware of what was going on,” and that “the need to protect oneself from physical, emotional or reputational damage is paramount.” That the “intolerable aspect of his employment was the unreasonable behaviour of the Office Manager, the absence of support from the Director and the lack of clarity about the reporting structure.” The adjudicator found that it was reasonable for the employee to resign and subsequently awarded them €20K.
Lessons for employers
- It is essential to deal with grievances and disputes in a clear and timely manner.
- Employers should refer to and use their grievance policy or dignity in the workplace policy and ensure everyone receives a copy of it if an issue arises. You can download the SFA guideline on grievances or bullying.
- Employers should not ignore issues as they do not go away and can often worsen over time.
If your business has a grievance, bullying or dispute issue please contact Helen Quinn on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01 605 1668 or visit our website.
This is just one of the many topics we will be covering in the SFA Employment Law seminar in Limerick on 3 October and Dublin on 17 October so book your place today and gain practical ways of managing bullying and disputes in the workplace.