Catering giant Sodexo carried out a ‘lazy’ and ‘totally inadequate’ redundancy process by sacking two night shift workers when its client sent staff to work from home during the pandemic, the Relations Commission has ruled instead. work (WRC).
Patricia Fleming and Kaye McDonnell have both filed unfair dismissal law complaints against Sodexo, claiming they were “deliberately targeted” to be fired because they received better rates of pay.
The two women represented themselves at a joint arbitration hearing into their cases in April.
The WRC learned they had both worked at a client site in Ovens, Co Cork as employees of Aramark Catering for more than a decade each when Sodexo took over their jobs in October 2010.
Ms Fleming had been chief supervisor while Ms McDonnell had worked as a supervisor, the hearing heard. Both women said Sodexo’s decision to lay off all night shift workers in September 2020 was unfair.
They said the consultation process conducted by the catering contractor “did not facilitate workers’ counter-proposals”.
In addition, colleagues who were kept on were given overtime, the women said in their testimony, adding that a colleague who was fired was later rehired.
Ibec’s employer relations manager, Niamh Ní Cheallaigh, who appeared on behalf of Sodexo, said his client in Ovens had said he “would no longer need the night shift” on the site due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said Sodexo had paid full salaries to all staff with the support of government pandemic grants until September 2020 when the rules were changed.
Ms. Ní Cheallaigh said at the time that none of the respondents were eligible for the grants.
Because the Fours client intended to continue working from home for the “foreseeable future”, Sodexo decided to “scale up” its catering staff on site.
She said the women were told their roles were at risk of being let go on August 4, 2020 during a virtual ‘town hall’ meeting and, in three meetings in August and September, were consulted by the account manager of Sodexo, Brenda Flaherty, and its restoration. director, John Rein.
The company had not identified any suitable role for their transfer, she said.
The two plaintiffs received notices of dismissal, confirmed by letter on September 8, said Ms. Ní Cheallaigh, and were informed of their right to appeal.
Both received an ex gratia lump sum that included their statutory severance pay, capped at one year’s salary, she added.
Both had the opportunity to appeal the dismissals, but did not.
In twin rulings issued this week, arbitrator Breiffni O’Neill wrote that there was an “absence of any concrete evidence” to suggest that Sodexo had conducted a meaningful consultation process “instead of simply deciding to ensure that all redundant night shift workers”.
“The consultation process was lazy and wholly inadequate and was essentially a box-ticking exercise rather than a genuine and thoughtful attempt” to avoid layoffs, he wrote.
Mr O’Neill ruled that a reasonable employer would have included all day, evening and night shift workers at the site in the redundancy screening process instead of making the ‘shocking claim’ that he was entitled to dismiss the night shift but to keep the other changes.
He added that he was convinced the two women had received “misguided advice” from their union, Siptu, and that was why they had not appealed.
He ruled that Ms Fleming and Ms McDonnell had been unfairly dismissed.
Ms McDonnell received €8,580, a sum equivalent to the difference in weekly wages between her old job at Sodexo and her new employer. Ms Fleming received €5,305.36 on the same basis.