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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Eamonn Farrell/

'She was left vulnerable': 64-year-old woman awarded €10,000 after being fired over age and illness

The woman took a discrimination case against her employer, a residential disability service.

A 64-YEAR-OLD cleaner was awarded €10,000 after she was unfairly dismissed by her employer because of her age and ill-health. 

The woman, who cannot be named, is resident in Ireland and worked as a part-time cleaner in a residential disability centre. After being fired by her employer, which cannot be named, she was left with no income and no social welfare supports. 

Represented by the Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC), the woman took her case to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), where an adjudicator found in her favour. 

“There is no coherent system for people like this complainant. They often fall between the cracks. Even if they think they have a case they won’t be able to navigate the system to make their way through,” said Sinead Lucey, Managing Solicitor at FLAC. 

“This woman was fleeing a situation of domestic violence in her home country of Moldova. She was exercising her free movement rights when she came to Ireland to live and to work. Ultimately her employer engaged in no process whatsoever around this woman’s employment or dismissal,” she said.

“She had no contract of employment, was given no training and was ultimately dismissed due to her health conditions and her age with immediate effect, although there was no evidence that either her health or her age ever impacted on her ability to work.”

‘Far from clear’

The woman was employed by the company from December 2018 to June 2019. She worked as a cleaner on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The WRC decision notes that the respondent first stated the woman in question had resigned, then said she had broken rules while at work.

The document notes that residents at the centre have mental and physical disabilities and, due to the nature of their needs, employees are “obliged to follow and respect very strict rules in and regulations”.

On one occasion on 27 May 2019, one of the managers at the centre claimed to see the woman hugging and kissing one of the residents, “which is not allowed and of which the complainant was informed personally the owner and by the staff”. The manager of the centre asked if the woman could be replaced, the document notes.

The respondent also claimed that the woman was offered another cleaning job at a school but turned it down.

In its ruling, the WRC stated: “The respondent when giving evidence was far from clear in relation to the reasons the complainant’s contract was terminate. Firstly, she stated that the complainant had resigned. Then she said her employment was terminated because of alleged misconduct…

“Regardless of the multitude of reasons put forward by the respondent at the hearing, the termination letter clearly and unambiguously states the complainant was let go because of her health and her age.”

The woman received support from the FLAC Roma Clinic Service, which has a dedicated interpreter, after her dismissal.

“This case highlights the need for legal information and advocacy in this area. Complaints before the Workplace Relations Commission are excluded from the civil legal aid system, irrespective of the capacity of the complainant to represent themselves. As a result, too few employment equality cases ever see the light of day when the complainant cannot afford representation,” said FLAC Chief Executive, Eilis Barry. 

The legal rights organisation has written to the parties involved in the programme for government to call for a “root and branch” review of the current legal aid system. 

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With reporting by Órla Ryan