Welfare Department ordered to pay ex-Debenhams worker legal dismissal – The Irish Times
A former Debenhams worker, who was denied lawful redundancy, will now receive payment after the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found that a Department of Social Care official was wrong to say she had too little service to be eligible.
The welfare officer had come to the conclusion that the shuttered retailer’s business adviser was three weeks away from the two-year redundancy threshold because she had received the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) for seven weeks between the start of of the first lockdown and the end of his employment.
Sarah Sheehan said she was “dissatisfied” with the decision and brought a complaint under the Severance Payments Act 1967 against the Department of Social Welfare to challenge it.
Ms Sheehan had worked 12 hours a week between April 26, 2018 and March 23, 2020, when the store was temporarily closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
She was paid for her normal contract hours until the end of March that year before being laid off from April 1 until April 20, when she received pandemic unemployment pay, the WRC has learned.
Liquidators were appointed at Debenhams Retail (Ireland) Ltd on April 16, 2020 and Ms Sheehan’s employment with the business ended four days later.
The Department of Social Protection took the position that to qualify for statutory redundancy pay Ms Sheehan had to be in insurable employment for at least 104 weeks.
He told the WRC that Ms Sheehan had just 100 weeks of service until the date she was made redundant.
The time she spent receiving PUP could not be considered accounting service for the purposes of severance pay, he claimed.
It was on this basis that the department’s decision-making officer sent a “refusal letter” to Ms Sheehan, he said.
The grievor’s union representative, Robert McNamara of Mandate, said his client disputed the finding that she had less than 104 weeks of service.
He argued that his employment relationship continued after the date of the layoff.
Adjudication officer Orla Jones agreed with the grievor’s position. “The respondent…seems to confuse ‘reliable service’ with ‘continuity of service,'” she wrote.
She added that the dismissal legislation “contains no reference to ‘recognized service’ and therefore only reference is made to continuous service and it is clear from the legislation that the period of dismissal does not does not affect or break this continuity”.
Although the period of Ms. Sheehan’s layoff had to be excluded when determining the amount to which she was entitled, it had to be included in the determination of the length of her employment in deciding whether she had crossed over or not the threshold.
“The Complainant in this case, due to the start date and end date of her employment and including the period of layoff during the PUP, has reached 104 weeks of continuous service,” it said. she writes.
Ms Jones concluded the complainant ‘has established a right to redundancy pay’ and upheld her appeal and said she should now be paid by the Department of Social Care.
The value of the severance pay was not disclosed.