Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Former Astronomy Ireland worker wins €2,100 over breaches

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An ex-employee of Astronomy Ireland who said she was stripped of responsibility for financial matters because she “started to ask questions” and was later asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement has won over €2,000 for employment rights breaches.

The Workplace Relations Commission made the awards to Nicole Doyle, an administrator who worked at the science organisation’s offices in Ballycoolin, Dublin between July 2022 and February 2023, on foot of complaints about the failure to provide her with written contractual statements under the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994.

All three were upheld by the adjudicator after Astronomy Ireland failed to enter an appearance before the tribunal in February.

Ms Doyle, who was earning €538.47 a week for a 37.5-hour week, said she had made “multiple” requests for a written statement setting out her employment terms and that she had warned the organisation that it was “illegal” to fail to provide it.

Ms Doyle said Astronomy Ireland would “constantly” change her job, but she never got anything in writing about the changes.

She said “anything to do with finances” was taken away from her “because I started to ask questions about the legality of some of the ongoings”.

Ms Doyle said that about five or six months into her employment, a senior person in the organisation subjected her to a “grilling” about the bank balance “not being high enough”.

Ms Doyle said that after the phone call she was given a contract and that it had a clause telling her: “I’m never allowed speak about any of the ongoings in the company.”

Leave terms and pay were “barely” addressed in the document and her stated weekly hours of work had changed from the 37.5 she had originally agreed to 39, she said. Her view was that it did not cover all of the areas required by the legislation.

“It was a contract for the company and not myself. It wasn’t to enable me have a safe journey at work. It was to enable them to have a safe journey when they fired me,” Ms Doyle said.

When her employers proposed to make her a “renewals officer” whose job would be “cold-calling members about their membership”, she said she told them: “I said I am happy to change things around as the company needs, but I do need it in writing, and I never received it,” Ms Doyle said.

She said her employment with Astronomy Ireland came to an end when they “fired me”.

Ms Doyle was accompanied at the hearing by her former line manager, Sonya Martin, who said she had “witnessed a lot of the same grievances” and was pursuing a workplace rights claim of her own.

In his decision, adjudicating officer Roger McGrath wrote that the burden of proof was on Astronomy Ireland to disprove Ms Doyle’s complaints, but that it had failed to attend the hearing. He found the organisation breached the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 on three counts.

These were on the failure to provide the worker a written statement setting out her core terms of employment within five days; the failure to give her the more expansive statement of terms required by law within 30 days, and the failure to notify her in writing of changes to her terms of employment.

He awarded Ms Doyle four weeks’ pay, €2,153.88, as compensation for the rights breaches.

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