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WRC case Sims fertility clinic ordered to pay former employee €23k compensation over unfair dismissal

The Sims Clinic told the WRC that it made Ms Murphy redundant after it suspended its Egg Donation Programme following the outbreak of Covid-19

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One of the country’s best-known fertility clinics, Sims Clinic must pay a former Egg Donation Programme Co-ordinator €23,160 compensation for her unfair dismissal.

This follows Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudicator, Catherine Byrne, ordering Sims Clinic Ltd to pay Aoife Murphy the €23,160 concerning her unfair dismissal during the pandemic.

The Sims Clinic told the WRC that it made Ms Murphy redundant in November 2020 after it suspended its Egg Donation Programme following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The fertility business – with clinics in north and south Dublin, Cork and Carlow – stated that the restrictions on foreign travel meant that it was not able to arrange for egg donation procedures to be carried out and the service was suspended.

The clinic stated that as a result, patient throughput reduced by 83pc and documents submitted to the WRC show that revenues at the Sims Clinic would reduce by €1.5m in 2020 and by up to €3.5m in 2021.

A Human Resources Manager for the Sims Clinic told the WRC that in addition to the Covid-19 travel restrictions, the closure of a clinic in Ukraine with whom they had collaborated led to huge difficulties for the business.

The HR manager stated the Ukraine clinic stopped taking new patients from Dublin and gave notice that the contract between the two parties would not be renewed.

The HR manager stated a clinic in the UK agreed to provide services to between five and seven clients per month, whereas the Ukraine clinic had treated up to 25 per month.

Because of this, the Egg Donation team was restructured and the staff reduced from seven to two and Ms Murphy's job of Egg Donation Programme Co-ordinator was made redundant.

Publicly available accounts for Sims Clinic Ltd show that revenues totalled €10.4m for the 12 months to the end of June 2020 compared to revenues of €14.99m for the prior year.

The company last year paid out a dividends of €2.5m as it recorded an operating loss of €133,305 compared to an operating profit of €1.1m in the prior year. The company's pre-tax profit of €830,277 for the 12 months to the end of June 2020 was largely due to a dividend received of €1m.

At the end of June 2020, the business employed 84.

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Ms Murphy has worked at the Sims Clinic since June 2014 and had an annual salary of €42,200.

Sims Clinic told the WRC that in September 2020, the clinic’s Egg Donation Programme was staffed by seven employees and by December this has reduced to two including one working four days a week.

Ms Murphy went on maternity leave in September 2019 and by September 2020 when she was informed that her job was at risk, she had not returned to work.

Ms Murphy had been diagnosed as unfit to return to work due to back injury she sustained in a car accident.

Ms Byrne stated Ms Murphy’s perspective on the effect of the Covid pandemic on Sims Clinic’s business is different to that of Sims Clinic.

Ms Murphy told the hearing that because people cannot travel abroad for fertility services, the clinic “has been reaping the benefits of patients choosing Irish clinics for their fertility needs”.

In finding that Ms Murphy was unfairly dismissed, Ms Byrne stated the Sims Clinic was entitled to take measures to address the serious financial impact that the Covid-19 travel restrictions, including the right to implement redundancies.

However, Mr Byrne found that the Sims Clinic did not make an adequate attempt to identify an option other than the termination of Ms Murphy’s employment.

Ms Byrne stated this was a serious omission which does not meet the requirement for reasonableness in the Unfair Dismissal Act.

Ms Byrne stated Ms Murphy has transferable skills and her skills could have been used in other departments, while the requirement for standard IVF treatment which the clinic provides is increasing due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Ms Byrne stated that the 'highly qualified’ Ms Murphy could have been offered other roles at the clinic or offered the option of unpaid leave or a career break.

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