Ivy restaurant ordered to pay almost €10,000 in compensation to two former waitresses

The Ivy restaurant on Dublin's Dawson Street

Seán McCárthaigh

The Ivy restaurant in Dublin has been ordered to pay almost €10,000 in compensation to two former waitresses after the Labour Court ruled they had been unfairly dismissed from their jobs because of their trade union activities.

The awards arose from a successful appeal by former head waitress at the Ivy, Lenka Laiermanova and her colleague, Julia Marciniak, against a ruling by the Workplace Relations Commission that complaints they had been fired as a result of their trade union activities were not well founded.

The Ivy, which is operated by Troia (UK) Restaurants, claimed the two women were dismissed as a result of an incident at the Dawson Street restaurant on March 1, 2019 when they denied a customer an opportunity to leave a tip by credit card by claiming gratuities could only be paid in cash.

The Labour Court heard that tipping policy at the Ivy had received a lot of media coverage at the time.

Ms Marciniak gave evidence that she was not allowed to process credit card payment for customers and had arranged for Ms Laiermanova to sort out the bill.

Ms Laiermanova explained that she had skipped the tip option while processing the credit card payment because she did not think it was appropriate to ask a customer who was unhappy at a delay in settling her bill if she wanted to pay a tip.

The court’s deputy chairperson, Louise O’Donnell, said the action of the restaurant raised serious concerns about the bona fides of allegations made against the two women.

The court ruled that on the balance of probabilities, the restaurant’s general manager, Jamie Belton, had deliberately submitted a report about both waitresses as part of the disciplinary process that was factually incorrect.

It noted Mr Belton had included an unsigned and undated statement allegedly received from a member of staff alluding only to the claimants’ trade union activities.

The court said Mr Belton was aware that Ms Marciniak was on a first and final written warning following the incident on March 1 and later escalated a conversation between staff into an issue worthy of suspension.

Ms O’Donnell said disciplinary procedures that flowed from Mr Belton’s report were “fatally flawed.”

She concluded the reason claimed by the Ivy for the women’s dismissal was not the real reason why they were sacked.

The court also said Mr Belton’s claim that he was unaware Ms Laiermanova and Ms Marciniak were active members of the Unite trade union was not credible.

Ms O’Donnell said the evidence supported the contention of both claimants that allegations of misconduct made against them were an attempt to hide the real reason for their dismissal

The Labour Court heard both women started working in the restaurant when it opened in July 2018 on basic pay rates and 80pc of all tips, although their work contract made no reference to tips.

Ms Laiermanova claimed Mr Belton informed staff before the restaurant’s opening that they would only receive 40pc of any credit card tips and were not informed how the other 60pc would be distributed.

The court heard evidence that there were ongoing issues among staff about how tips were allocated since the Ivy opened which resulted in many workers quitting their jobs.

At one stage, 16 workers wrote a letter to Mr Belton seeking a guarantee that they would receive 50pc of the service charge as well as seeking information on the distribution of credit card tips.

Ms Laiermanova had twice handed in her notice in late 2018 because she had been earning more money in her previous job but had been persuaded to stay by Mr Belton by increasing her hourly rate.

The two claimants joined Unite and began encouraging other staff to become members of the trade union after they were put in contact with Unite official, Brendan Ogle by the Right to Change TD, Joan Collins.

The court heard evidence that the relationship between Mr Belton and the two waitresses changed after the Ivy’s head of HR, Janene Pretorius met with Mr Ogle.

Mr Ogle said he was informed by Ms Pretorius on the same day the two staff were dismissed that the restaurant group had no plans to enter into a collective agreement with Unite.

The union official told the Labour Court that the Ivy had provided unsigned and undated witness statements, while it failed to provide any letter of complaint from a customer.

Ms Marciniak said she was told by Mr Belton on her return to work after her first suspension to “choose a side”.

She was subsequently accused of bringing the Ivy into disrepute over an incident on April 8, 2019 when she allegedly was slow in bringing a drink to a customer.

Ms Marciniak said she felt she was being subjected to a concerted campaign of bullying and intimidation because of her Unite membership.

Under cross-examination, Mr Belton accepted that neither claimant had requested a cash tip from a customer and that the customer did not want to make a complaint in writing.

Mr Belton accepted he had taken no action against other staff whom he knew had been requesting cash tips.

He also agreed that he had not asked for their version of events before suspending them and that he had issued an invitation to a disciplinary hearing before completing his investigation.

Mr Belton said he felt the press and people on the street were thinking that he was keeping the tips and he “had enough.”

The Labour Court rejected a separate appeal by the two women against the WRC’s decision that it could not examine claims that their dismissal was also linked to protected disclosures as they were submitted outside statutory time limits.

The court ordered the Ivy to pay Ms Laiermanova compensation totalling €7,924 and awarded Ms Marciniak a sum of €2,016.