Economics Professor Unfairly Dismissed By HR Director; Awarded £260K as Director Has No Authority

In Wim Naudé v University College Cork (UCC), an economics professor won £260,000 after the Workplace Relations Commission in Ireland (WRC) called his case “quite extraordinary”. The academic secured the maximum compensation allowed under legislation upon winning his unfair dismissal claim. Despite this, the WRC stated they would have awarded him more had it been within their jurisdiction.

In this article, we begin by exploring the events that preceded the claim. Then, we discuss why the WRC felt the UCC’s decision to remove the professor was “astonishing”.

If you believe you have been unfairly dismissed and feel unsure how to proceed, contact Redmans Solicitors now. We are employment law specialists and can assess the eligibility of your claim before advising you on your possible next steps.

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The Facts in Wim Naudé v University College Cork

Economics Professor Struggles to Relocate

Wim Naudé (“The Claimant”) began working for University College Cork (“The Respondent”) in January 2021 as an economics professor. Due to the prevailing Covid restrictions during that period, he commenced his duties remotely from the Netherlands. Despite this, he had a good relationship with his students, who achieved grades reflective of his “exceptional” output.

From the onset, the claimant wished to relocate to Cork, having relocated several times prior, but had concerns due to the uncertainties of Covid. During his interview, he raised these concerns, but the UCC reassured him that they were “very flexible”. They also offered him accommodation at that time.

Yet, the UCC’s alleged support never materialised. In either June or July 2021, as Covid restrictions began to ease, the claimant made numerous trips to Ireland in search of housing. He recounted the challenges of this endeavour, highlighting instances where viewings were unexpectedly cancelled on the day. This was despite having already travelled from the Netherlands.

UCC’s Support Proves Non-Existent

On 19 November, the economics professor wrote to the University concerning his relocation, but the support he received was non-existent. Individuals within the educational institute failed to find him accommodation or provide any information about considerations like schools. Given that one of his children has autism and requires special educational needs, such information was essential.

Until this juncture, the claimant had been exclusively working remotely. However, starting in January 2022, he commenced a new blended workload arrangement. He began working one week per month on campus while continuing to fulfil the remainder of his duties remotely.

University Dismisses Economics Professor

In July, the claimant met with the head of the business school, Professor Thia Hennessey. During their meeting, they discussed his struggles with relocating to Cork. Professor Hennessey proposed that he should consider requesting a reduction in his time, a right outlined in the staff manual. Encouraged by this advice, he opted to pursue this course of action. However, it became evident that UCC’s position diverged sharply from Professor Hennessey’s perspective.

On 1 August, he corresponded with the UCC regarding the upcoming academic year, proposing either a continuation of the blended workload or a reduction of 33% in his contracted hours. Yet, without hearing a response, he was dismissed by the University’s director of HR, Barry O’Brien, a week later.

The dismissal correspondence reasoned, “On a number of occasions… you have given absolute assurances that you would relocate to Cork”. It added, “Your most recent correspondence confirms… that it is not your intention to do so”. It concluded, “By your actions, you continue to frustrate the requirements of your contract… Accordingly, UCC now deems your contract of employment to be null and void”.

The economics professor was subsequently given three months’ pay in lieu of notice, expiring on 30 November. However, he wasn’t informed of any right to appeal and consequently claimed unfair dismissal.

The Workplace Relations Commission’s Judgment

Upon deliberation of the facts, the Workplace Relations Commission in Ireland described the case as “quite extraordinary”. They alluded to the University’s case, claiming that it produced a variety of questions. Namely, why the University decided to continue proceedings despite the director of HR dismissing the economics professor without authority.

They found it equally unclear why the University was backing this decision despite it contravening statute and its own internal policies. No investigation nor proper procedure took place prior to dismissal, and the claimant wasn’t given the right to appeal. The WRC stated that, by the University’s decision, “it is submitting that it is wholly oblivious to the requirements of the legislative framework in this area, the most basic requirements of fair procedure and natural justice”.

Furthermore, the WRC found that the University had no issue with the claimant’s behaviour or performance. In fact, they found no reason for his dismissal. As such, they ruled he had been unfairly dismissed and awarded him €300,000, roughly £257,000.  Yet, due to the egregious nature of the case and its impacts on the claimant’s career, they believed his losses “far exceed the maximum jurisdiction of the Act”.

Unfortunately, circumstances like that experienced by the economics professor occur regularly. If you have faced something similar and wish to pursue unfair dismissal compensation, contact us today. Redmans Solicitors can discuss your case and help you get the justice you seek.

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