Analysis: Compensation for dismissal – another big award by the WRC

Analysis: Compensation for dismissal – another big award by the WRC

Elizabeth Ryan and Melanie Crowley

Mason Hayes & Curran partners Elizabeth Ryan and Melanie Crowley consider the trend towards large compensation awards for dismissal.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has continued its streak of record-breaking awards of compensation for dismissal.

We previously looked at an award of compensation in excess of €400,000. Now, the WRC has made yet another landmark award of €300,000 for the unfair dismissal of a leading academic at a university. This begs the question: are we entering a new era of compensation for dismissal?


The complainant was a leading academic with 30 years’ experience who started working with his employer in January 2021.

While it was initially agreed that he would work remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, his employer claimed that it is a “physical presence university”. The complainant was accordingly expected to be present in person from August/September 2021.

Although the complainant claimed that he always intended to relocate to Ireland, this was not easy due to the housing crisis. He was subsequently dismissed by his employer’s head of HR by email because he had not relocated.


The Adjudication Officer (AO) of the WRC found that the complainant had been unfairly dismissed. The AO noted that the employer was oblivious to the Irish legislative framework and that any employee in jeopardy of any disciplinary sanction up to and including dismissal is entitled to “fair procedures and natural justice”. The AO found that the complainant had:

  • A right to be notified that he was at risk of sanction
  • A right to an investigation and a disciplinary process
  • A right of representation
  • A right to present his case
  • A right of reply, and
  • A right of appeal

The employer asserted that the employee had committed a fundamental breach of contract. The employer sought to rely on the catch all “other substantial grounds” for dismissal in the Unfair Dismissal Acts. However, the AO noted that prior to the complainant’s dismissal there was no correspondence suggesting he was breaching his contract and/or giving him an opportunity to remedy it. The AO held even if the employee was dismissed for some other substantial reason, he would still have been entitled to the full benefit of a disciplinary process and the rights and protections afforded to him under it, none of which were provided to him.

If left to her “own devices”, the AO stated she would have re-instated the employee as the dismissal lacked “dignity, decency and responsibility”. However, the complainant had sought compensation. The high award to the complainant was reflective of his inability to mitigate his losses where he claimed his career was ruined by his employer. In particular, he could not use the title “Professor”, which made it difficult for him to obtain consultancy work as he was no longer attached to a state university and had only earned €17,000 since August 2022.


Employers are advised to carefully consider this decision when dealing with employees who refuse to work and/or return to work in the jurisdiction. It suggests that, even where no disciplinary issue has arisen but where an employee refuses to attend the workplace, the employer must ensure the employee has been afforded fair procedures and natural justice.

The AO noted in her decision, however, that the employer did not advance any argument regarding frustration of contract. The case may have had a different outcome had this argument been made by the employer.

It remains to be seen if the employer will appeal the decision to the Labour Court.

Share icon
Share this article: