A firm that accused a manager of trying to “extort” it by claiming he was forced to quit over stress has been ordered to pay over €86,000 for constructive dismissal.
Ruling on a complaint against Paradigm Plastics Ltd, trading as Future Plastics, a Workplace Relations Commission adjudicator found ex-engineering manager Michael Murphy was blameless and being “reasonable” when he decided he had to quit last December.
Last month, the tribunal heard that Mr Murphy raised an informal bullying complaint in January 2022 against his line manager, Padraig Shine, but that this was not acted upon.
In February that year, the company announced plans that Mr Murphy said would “fundamentally change [his] role and standing within the company” by reassigning duties and staff from him to a new department head.
A consultation meeting followed on March 1st, 2022 – the firm’s HR representative Paul McGlynn of HRS Consultants, stating to the tribunal that there was “a risk” to Mr Murphy’s role at this point, but “no decision” on redundancy.
The complainant said he took sick leave for work-related stress on 7th March that year – staying out without pay and unable to attend further consultation meetings until December that year, when he resigned.
The firm maintained it would not investigate Mr Murphy’s May 2022 formal grievance while he was absent – arguing that Mr Murphy would accuse it of adding to his stress if it had done so.
A company doctor only saw the complainant in October 2022, and found Mr Murphy “fit to participate in an investigation”, the WRC heard.
Mr McGlynn, appearing for the firm, stated in a legal submission: “The claimant saw this as an opportunity to extort as much money as possible from the company”, adding that it could not “survive” paying “even 10 per cent” of what was being sought.
In his own evidence, Mr Shine denied that refusing to pay Mr Murphy during his sick leave was a “tactic” – or that the firm had “dragged its heels” on the grievance to the same end.
In a closing submission, Aaron Shearer BL, appearing for Mr Murphy instructed by James Allen & Co Solicitors said: “There was no basis for the grievance not to be dealt with other than to starve the complainant.”
In his decision on the case, adjudicator John Harraghy wrote that the firm was right in concluding that it could do the investigation unless Mr Murphy was fit to take part – but that the firm was “entirely” at fault for the delay to the occupational health assessment.
Mr Harraghy found Mr Murphy was “reasonable” in resigning and that it had been a constructive unfair dismissal.
In an order under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977, he directed the firm to pay Mr Murphy €86,243 awarded as a “just and equitable” award in light of Mr Murphy’s “blamelessness in this situation” and the “serious and long-term impact” on him.