Dublin car dealer ordered to give salesman job back after he was let go ‘because of Covid restrictions’

Scales of Justice - Conflict of Interest and Expert Witness

24 June 2022

Dublin motor dealership Denis Mahony has been ordered to give one of its salesmen his old job back after the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruled he was improperly made redundant during the pandemic.

It is thought to be the first time this year the WRC has ordered the reinstatement of a worker who was unfairly sacked – with almost all claimants under the Unfair Dismissals Act preferring to seek compensation as a remedy.

Fionnan Martin’s claim under the Unfair Dismissals Act against Denis Mahony Limited was upheld by the Workplace Relations Commission in a decision published this morning.

In evidence to a hearing last October, Mr Martin said the company’s sales director Kevin McDermott phoned him in mid-April 2020 to inform him he was “being let go because of the Covid restrictions”.

Mr Martin said he had been “very happy” working for the firm and asked his manager whether he could be “put on the Covid payments” – but although he was told this would be discussed with him, he had “no further contact” from the motor dealer.

He denied receiving a letter the company said it sent to him the following day and said he got no written statement from the company about his dismissal until his solicitor made contact.

Mr Martin said there was “no attempt” made to keep him employed despite the government pandemic aid provided to employers to keep staff on during lockdown and that he was the only employee made redundant.

He went on to say Denis Mahony hired a new employee in the Lexus sales department in September 2020.

Mr McDermott, the sales director, said the business shut down on March 23, 2020 and that at the time of the complainant’s dismissal he had “no idea when it would open”.

There were three staff working in the Lexus sales team and four selling Toyotas at the dealership, he said – but there were only around 100 Lexus cars sold in a normal year compared with 700-800 Toyotas.

“The Covid financial supports [were] based on the previous year[’s] turnover and [Denis Mahony’s] was too high for the first quarter of 2020 to qualify for it and it was difficult to access it,” Mr McDermott said.

He said the firm paid its own wage bill in full in April and only received government pandemic supports when the rules for the scheme were changed later.

Mr McDermott said layoff was not considered as an alternative to making Mr Martin redundant and his selection was made on a last in, first out basis.

Mr Martin had just 16 months’ service compared with 40 years for the other worker in the Lexus sales department, the sales director said.

The motor dealer’s position was that Mr Martin was one of six workers made redundant across the company at the time, including three from the service department and two at another branch.

Mr McDermott said he “did not consider consulting with the complainant before making the decision” and said he “could not meet him because of the Covid restrictions” in place at the time.

The business opened eight weeks later, and the sales director confirmed that a new worker was taken on in the same department in September – a “Lexus Host” position “required” by the luxury car brand which he said was “a receptionist job”.

The dealership branch manager, Frank Dunne, gave evidence that no staff were let go from the Toyota side of the business.

Mr Martin’s solicitor, Michael J Ryan, argued Denis Mahony had dismissed his client with “no procedures” and “no objective assessment of the situation”.

“The respondent was influenced by his experience in the previous recession and gave no other reason for selecting the complainant for redundancy,” he said.

He argued the dealership could have used temporary layoff, the pandemic wage subsidy scheme or a transfer to the new job in the Lexus sales department to maintain his client’s employment.

In her decision, adjudicating officer Marian Duffy wrote that the motor dealer’s failure to consider any alternatives to redundancy was “totally unreasonable” and that the company had failed to establish that the business conditions satisfied the legal requirements for making a role redundant.

“No genuine redundancy situation” had been established, she wrote, and found Mr Martin had been unfairly dismissed.

The complainant said at hearing that he was “amenable to reinstatement”, she noted, while Denis Mahony’s position was that giving Mr Martin his job back “was not possible because there may be bad feelings due to this complaint”, she wrote.

“I cannot see any reason why this case would be a bar to reinstatement,” Ms Duffy wrote.

“Having considered the views of the parties, all the circumstances and evidence in this case, I believe that the appropriate remedy is reinstatement to the position he held at the date of the dismissal,” she wrote, and made an order to that effect.

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