Ryanair ordered to pay €7,500 to flight ops officer unfairly dismissed during pandemic

WRC finds airline left Gary Howard ‘in the dark’ about why he was chosen for redundancy, describing treatment as ‘careless and unfair’

Ryanair subjected a flight ops officer to a “double punishment” by denying him a €2,500 bonus given to his colleagues just two weeks after he was made redundant during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The budget airline was ordered to pay the sum to its former employee by on top of a €5,000 award for unfair dismissal in a decision published on Friday by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

The tribunal found the worker had been dismissed in a “legitimate” redundancy process, but that Ryanair’s treatment of the flight ops manager, Gary Howard, had been “careless and unfair” – as he had been “left in the dark” about why his job was chosen.

The tribunal heard Ryanair’s HR department had only shown Mr Howard his own scores in a redundancy selection process – even though an adjudicating officer in the case found the airline had “nothing ... to hide”.


The decision came on foot of statutory complaints against Ryanair DAC under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 and the Payment of Wages Act 1991.

Ryanair, whose solicitor Fieldfisher instructed senior counsel Frank Beatty to defend the case over the course of five days between July 2021 and December last year, took the position that Mr Howard had “no contractual entitlement” to the bonus pay.

It also maintained that his redundancy was justified by the business circumstances of the pandemic and that his role had been selected using “objective” criteria.

The airline’s deputy director of ground operations, identified only as “TK”, gave evidence that the job cuts included six redundancies of permanent staff and the loss of five more from the control room where Mr Howard worked in the form of probation periods being ended.

A HR officer who gave evidence said the airline didn’t believe it was “appropriate to leave an individual on the books” and so did not avail of the Government pandemic employment subsidies – moving instead to “right-size the operation” in the long term.

The HR officer said the airline used four criteria “always set out in the workplace” in the redundancy selection process: length of service, punctuality, attendance and performance – the last one, the adjudicator noted, seemed to be measured as instances of a worker agreeing to work “at short notice”, demonstrating “flexibility and willingness”.

Voluntary redundancy was ruled out, the HR officer added.

The tribunal heard that Mr Howard told the managers at a meeting in May 2020, when he was advised of a redundancy risk, that his attendance record in the preceding months showed a number of “lates and no-shows” which he said could be down to his having high blood pressure.

Company witnesses gave evidence that there was a “zero tolerance approach” to absences in Ryanair, and the tribunal noted the staff handbook made no distinction between lateness or absence being caused by a more minor issue, like a “public transport failure”, and “illness, accident or sudden death”.

Mr Howard told the tribunal that he felt the decision to terminate him “had already been made”.

Mr Howard said his “recent bout of illness” had caused the attendance issues and “was now costing him his employment”.

He said he was the only member of staff in the process who had late letters included in their scoring and that he didn’t accept “all other staff were never late”.

None of his proposals on alternatives to redundancy, including flexible working, a temporary pay cut and a hiring freeze, “gained any traction”, the tribunal heard, and his role was ultimately made redundant at the start of June 2020.

Adjudicating officer Penelope McGrath wrote in her decision that it was “curious” that Ryanair had opted not to show Mr Howard the full set of scores given to staff who were being considered for redundancy against him.

It gave him just a two-line version with only his own scores, the tribunal heard, with Mr Howard’s solicitor, Mairead Carey, later obtaining the full version through a GDPR request months after Mr Howard’s complaint was lodged.

Mr Howard “became consumed by the unseen content” even though Ryanair had “nothing to hide”, Ms McGrath noted.

“The redundancy and the selection process were legitimate, but the treatment of the complainant himself was careless and unfair,” Ms McGrath wrote in her decision.

“An unfairness attached to the process insofar as the complainant was left in the dark and had no idea how he had become selected from among the candidates. Management failed to provide him with the full information giving rise to a perception of injustice and targeting,” she wrote.

She accepted Mr Howard’s argument that the bonus had been earned the year before and paid to his colleagues, stating that not paying it “operates, I would suggest, as a double punishment” and had been an “unlawful deduction”.

“I put the work in for that period of time and I am entitled to it,” Mr Howard said.