Compensation for Employee dismissed over childcare issues during Covid-19 – what should employers learn from this case

Shannon Chamber HR is a dedicated HR and Employment Law Support Service for members of Shannon Chamber provided in partnership with Adare Human Resource Management, experts in Employment Law, Industrial Relations, Human Resources and Health & Safety at preferential rates.

Derek McKay, Managing Director at Adare Human Resource Management looks at a recent Workplace Relations Commission case that found in favour of a female employee dismissed over childcare issues due to Covid-19 and highlights what employers should learn from this particular case.

Overview of WRC case

The case involved the dismissal of a female credit controller by a sports firm on the basis she could not return to the workplace following the closure of the creche that cared for her children due to Covid-19. The claimant stated that she could not return to the office due to childcare issues following the forced closure. She had proposed potential other options to the respondent such as working after hours, parental leave and lay-off so that the respondent could advertise the position on a temporary basis.

However, the respondent did not accept any of these options and, despite knowing about the claimant’s situation, terminated her employment due to the fact that she could not fulfill her duties and responsibilities as part of her role.

The claimant said she made every effort to carry out her duties during the time she was unable to go into the office but the respondent decided to dismiss her.

The respondent did not attend the WRC hearing. And, the Adjudicating Officer stated that the respondent had “engaged in relentless pressure on the complainant to force her to return to work”. The Adjudicating Officer awarded the claimant €10,000 in compensation and also recommended that the respondent take steps to implement a “transparent and effective Remote Working policy”.

The Officer also highlighted the Government’s own intention to ensure remote working become a permanent feature in the employment landscape and that working from home is now commonplace. He highlighted that there are important social considerations, in particular the promotion of family-friendly workplaces and access to the workplace that would historically been difficult due to the rigidness of traditional workplace practices.

Childcare during Covid-19

We have previously written about childcare issues due to Covid-19 and public health restrictions and it is worth highlighting again that employers are not obliged to provide childcare solutions for their employees. And, as a result of Covid-19, there are no changes to the employer employee relationship. It is the responsibility of the employer to provide the work and tools needed to complete tasks and the employees commit to doing the work as per the terms and conditions of their employment. If an employee is unable to carry out the work as per their contract of employment, for childcare as an example, employers are encouraged to understand the reasons preventing them to do so.

Remote working, flexible start and finish times, flexible working week including working over weekends to free up weekdays are all relatively straightforward ways of accommodating employees as much as possible. Parental leave, annual leave or unpaid leave are also options and the employee in the above case offered a number of options for the employer to consider.

Remote Working

The Government published its National Remote Working Strategy in January with the aim of making remote working a permanent option for the working life post-Covid. The strategy set out plan to strengthen the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees to provide the structures to work remotely and set out guidance on how to implement effectively.

It is expected that there will be influx of cases coming in front of the WRC under unfair dismissal and equality legislation in the coming months in relation to remote working requests being refused. Employers will need to assess the realty of remote working and evaluate how best to implement policies and procedures in their workplaces, particularly for employees with childcare responsibilities or other caring obligations. There obviously sectors where remote working is impossible, such as manufacturing and healthcare. However, in the main, remote working is now a permanent feature in the Irish workplace and to avoid a situation such as that above, employers will need to engage with employees, consider the needs of the business and their obligations under legislation and implement robust remote working policies.

If your Organisaiton requires support in developing remote working policies, please contact a member of our expert HR team through Shannon Chamber HR.

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