Florist awarded €14,000 over unfair redundancy during lockdown
Posted on 7th December 2022 at 22:41
Employer had argued there was no question of the complainant transferring within the business
A florist who was unfairly dismissed by way of redundancy when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down her employer’s wedding trade has been awarded more than €14,000 for employment law breaches.
Flowers Made Easy had maintained that the complainant, Mary O’Gara, was a “one-person wedding department” and that there was no question of transferring her within the business as an alternative to redundancy in November 2020.
However, Ms O’Gara told the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) she did “a lot more than wedding work” – and the firm’s chief executive said under questioning that it did not consider transferring her to another area because she was “paid more than other florists”.
Ms O’Gara’s complaints under the Unfair Dismissals Act and the Terms of Employment (Information) Act against Flowers Made Easy Ltd were upheld by the WRC in a decision published on Wednesday.
A third complaint under the Organisation of Working Time Act was rejected.
Barry O’Mahony, appearing for the Flowers Made Easy, instructed by Paula Walsh of ARAG Legal Protection Ltd, said the employer was already facing “a dramatic downturn in business generally” before the pandemic hit and that this had been “particularly acute in relation to weddings”.
The firm had just been bought out by new owners in January 2020, the tribunal was told.
Ms O’Gara had “sole responsibility” for the wedding business and was “in effect, a one-person wedding department”, Mr O’Mahony said.
It was the company’s case that the wedding trade “quickly became unviable” when the first lockdown was imposed in March 2020.
“It became clear that the wedding department would need to be shut down completely. This resulted in the redundancy of the complainant’s position as she was the only employee engaged in this department,” Mr O’Mahony submitted.
“As there were no other employees the issue of selection did not arise,” he added.
The company maintained the wedding business accounted for 95 per cent of the complainant’s work and that it had “no choice but to make her redundant”.
HR consultant John Barry, appearing for the complainant, said his client’s duties included “all aspects of floristry” – including helping out at peak periods; doing sick cover for other staff; teaching floristry classes; dealing with corporate clients and liaising with couples preparing for weddings.
He said Ms O’Gara was one of two staff who went back to work on March 31st, 2020, four days into the first Covid-19 lockdown, when the company reopened for a delivery service.
He said that the company held a staff meeting on November 11th, 2020, when employees were told the firm was “expecting a busy Christmas”.
“Staff were all asked to be available to work extra hours and on two weekends in the run-up to Christmas Eve,” he said.
Ms O’Gara’s case was that she “continued working as instructed” until November 16th that year when she was called to a meeting by the chief executive.
Mr Barry said his client was then told she was being “being put on the PUP [Pandemic Unemployment Payment], as she was being laid off with immediate effect and should leave the premises immediately”.
“Redundancy was not mentioned,” he said.
The following day, the accountant called to Ms O’Gara’s house “to see if she needed help to register online for the PUP”, he said.
Ms O’Gara then wrote to the chief executive asking about jobs she had booked for later in November – and to “discuss the way she had been treated”, the tribunal heard.
Her case was that the meeting informing her of redundancy was called for the following day – at which the chief executive “sat in front of his computer and read a prepared script”.
Adjudicating officer Hugh Lonsdale wrote in his decision the firm had opted for redundancy on the basis that Ms O’Gara “no longer had any work to do” and that she was solely responsible for the wedding business.
“However . . . she did other work and others carried out parts of the wedding work. The respondent gave evidence that they did not consider any other restructuring options and did not consult the complainant,” Mr Lonsdale wrote.
“Given this and the evidence that the complainant was paid more than the other florists, I conclude the decision to make [Ms O’Gara] redundant was not for ‘reasons not related to the employee concerned’,” he wrote, citing the definition in the Redundancy Payments Act.
He found the dismissal was unfair and ordered the firm to pay Ms O’Gara €12,168.
Mr Lonsdale also found the new management of Flowers Made Easy had not issued terms and conditions of employment to Ms O’Gara at the time of the takeover and awarded a further €1,872 for the breach – bringing the total orders against the employer to €14,040.
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