This case underscores the vital need for meticulous record-keeping during an Employee’s probationary period, particularly when considering dismissal due to performance issues. The subsequent sections outline the positions of the Complainant and the Respondent, the adjudication officer’s determination, and key takeaways for both Employers and Employees.

In this case, the Complainant alleged that her Employer engaged in discriminatory treatment against her. The Complainant, a HR and Operations Manager, was dismissed during her probationary period, but claimed she was dismissed on the basis of religion and racial origin, in violation of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015.

Position of Complainant

The Complainant, an HR and Operations Manager, alleged discriminatory treatment based on her dismissal during her probationary period. She contended that her termination was based on her religion and racial origin in contravention of Employer’s obligations under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015. Despite her claim of no prior knowledge of performance concerns, a dispute arose regarding a mid-probation meeting highlighting deficiencies in performance. As noted by the Complainant’s representative, the letter of dismissal made no mention of deficiencies in performance. Performance, according to the Complainant, was never an issue, rather, it was “culture,” which could only refer to her own “culture.” During cross-examination, the Complainant admitted that she had disclosed her Indian heritage to the initial job interviewer, but that her religious beliefs had never been brought up.

Position of Respondent

The Respondent asserted significant deficiencies in the Complainant’s capacity to perform fundamental responsibilities, such as payroll and recruitment processes. Allegedly, two colleagues resigned due to identified performance issues during a midterm probation review. The HR office allegedly developed a noxious environment as a result of her actions.

Determination of the Adjudication Officer

The Employer bears the burden of proof in an employment equality case to demonstrate the absence of discrimination once the Employee has established a reasonable inference of potential discrimination. This is supported by the Labour Court’s ruling in Southern Health Board v Mitchell, [2001] -ELR 201. The central issues in this case were whether the Complainant was subject to discrimination under Sections 2 and 6 of the Act, whether she was treated less favourably than another individual not affected by the discriminatory ground, and whether she was discriminated against.

The Complainant, of Indian descent, alluded to religious beliefs without explicit expression. While meeting one discrimination criterion, the lack of specificity regarding religious grounds rendered the evidence inadmissible. Allegedly, the termination resulted from the Complainant’s Indian heritage being “incompatible with the Employer’s culture.”

The Complainant failed to establish facts that would raise and inference of discrimination on the part of the Employer on the religion ground. The primary discussion topics were those addressed during the probationary review meeting and additional accusations by coworkers about a “toxic” workplace environment. Despite considerable discontent revealed in oral testimony and detailed records, there was no conclusive evidence that the Complainant’s racial origin significantly influenced the decision:

“This was a Performance Probation Termination and from all the Oral and Written evidence it was conducted reasonably fairly. The Adjudicator could not see any evidence of a Religious or an Ethnic origin basis in the decision. There is not enough or indeed any obvious evidence of a Discriminatory Dismissal.”

Key Takeaways

Employers must ensure that any decision to terminate employment, even during the probation period, is based on objective, fair, and reasonable reasons, thoroughly documented and explained. Employees raising discrimination claims must present evidence beyond mere speculation to substantiate such charges.