Manager of the catering company Aramark receives 45,000 euros for unfair dismissal

A manager at the catering company Aramark has been awarded €45,000 in compensation for unfair dismissal after it was ruled that his dismissal during the first pandemic lockdown was “premature”.

In his decision, a judge from the Industrial Relations Commission (WRC) wrote that the Government had made an “extraordinary intervention” to subsidize wages and that the employer was “expected to do the same” in dealing with redundancies and redundancies of a way that would have reflected the “extraordinary times”.

Darragh O’Farrell had complained under the Wrongful Termination Act against Campbell Catering Ltd, doing business as Aramark Ireland, where he had worked since 2017 as a general manager in charge of a team of up to 100 workers at major sporting events.

The company, a specialist outdoor catering firm operating as part of the Aramark group, denied wrongful dismissal, arguing that O’Farrell’s role was redundant as a result of the impact of the pandemic.

Mr O’Farrell told the WRC at a hearing last June that he was paid most of his salary in the initial phase of the closure and continued to attend work until the site was closed.

He went on sick leave on March 27, 2020 for medical treatment and returned a month later, being furloughed the day he returned, he said.

On April 8, he met with his line manager via video call hoping to “catch up,” he said, only to be told his job was at risk of termination.

He said this was a “shock to the system”.

The final notice of dismissal was delivered to him on May 29 of that year after three consultation meetings before an unsuccessful appeal in June, with the entire process done through online calls.

Mr O’Farrell’s line manager told the WRC that the company’s business had “collapsed” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said a racing festival the company was catering to was cancelled, along with a golf tournament, which he called a “knockout blow.”

The firm ran just two small events in 2020, the WRC has been told.

The line manager’s evidence was that he kept in contact with his staff during his dismissal through online calls, which means that Mr. Farrell was kept abreast of the business situation and its financial effects.

The witness said that he had taken over the management of the company and “may never recover”.

A human resources manager provided evidence that Mr O’Farrell reached the first stage of a recruitment process for a general manager position in hospital catering in Galway, but that the position was filled by an external candidate in fall 2020.

“The position required experience in health and in a strong union environment, but the complainant did not have that experience. It was the only general manager position at that level,” the human resources manager said as evidence.

Ibec’s representative, Fergus Dwyer, appearing on behalf of the company, argued that it was a “proper and fair process” stemming from the drop in business due to the closure.

“It was clear that the need for the whistleblower role had diminished substantially as a result of sporting events not taking place,” he said in submission.

O’Farrell said the golf event “wasn’t canceled in 2020, it was postponed.”

He said his employer “failed to explain why the position was redundant” during the consultation process.

Three alternative roles offered by the employer “were not suitable”, and one was “sold to him in a negative way”, as there was a 33% pay cut, no company van and starting at 4 a.m.

“There was no midway meeting on these proposals,” Mr. O’Farrell said.

Other managers at catering operations at a stadium and tourist attraction who remained were “newer than him” at the company, he said, arguing a last-in, first-out selection process could have been used.

He obtained Garda clearance for hospital work when the pandemic started and offered his services to a health care facility, only “belatedly becoming aware” of the vacant general manager position at the hospital.

He argued on appeal that his employer made a decision about that role before telling him he was at risk of being fired.

Mr O’Farrell said there was a “lack of process” and a “lack of clarity” that made him feel “undervalued” and argued that the consultation process was a “box-ticking exercise”.

“Overall, I find Plaintiff’s termination to be unfair dismissal,” adjudicating officer Kevin Baneham wrote in a decision published today.

It was inaccurate for the firm to regard Mr. O’Farrell’s role as “unique” when he was “contractually required to be flexible in other roles and elsewhere” and had done so before, the adjudicator wrote.

The firing process was carried out in a short period of time that “did not reflect the extraordinary circumstances of the time” or the “inevitable lack of alternatives,” Baneham wrote.

He wrote that there were “potentially many growing parts of the business” and that Mr. O’Farrell should have been treated the same as a chef who was laid off at the same time, but was hired to fill appropriate short-term vacancies.

There would have been “no cost to the respondent” to support Mr. O’Farrell due to state job supports available at the time.

“The salary subsidy was an extraordinary intervention by the Government, reflecting extraordinary times. The employer can be expected to do the same and treat layoffs and redundancies in a way that reflects extraordinary times,” he wrote.

It found that Mr O’Farrell had been unfairly dismissed and awarded him €45,000 in damages, with an additional payment of €821 in respect of five days of unpaid annual leave.

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