News from the Courts: Employee awarded €8,000 for not being allowed an interpreter during grievance hearing

A Latvian employee was awarded €8,000 by the WRC as her employer repeatedly refused to allow an interpreter during a grievance process. The employee had claimed they were victimised and harassed by her manager as he had been aggressive towards her one morning in December 2014 over the tidiness of her work area, and had shouted at her several times, which she reported, had shocked her and left her very stressed. The WRC found that while she was not harassed he did highlight that the company’s policy not to allow an interpreter demonstrated a complete misunderstanding of the requirements of the [Employment Equality] Acts.

Even at her appeal, she was again denied the use of an interpreter even though she had written to her employer, with the assistance of her interpreter, expressing her disappointment and stating her fear that she “would not be able to explain herself clearly at the meetings and that she would not be able to understand the process and its terminology fully and therefore needed the assistance of an interpreter.
She did acknowledge that she could communicate in English in general terms with no problems but that a grievance process was not the same as daily communications in the work place, as it would involve specific terminology.

While her union representative could not speak Latvian, the employer maintained they had been able to fully represent her at each stage of this process to ensure she had a fair hearing of her grievance, but at the same time had written to her to indicate that she had literacy problems in relation to spoken and written English, and they required her to take a literacy test. The employer indicated that if the result of this test was found to be low, it reserved the right to terminate her contract of employment.

The WRC AO pointed out the contradictory position of the employer, on one hand it doubted her English ability to the point it required her to take a literacy test, and on the other hand maintained her English was sufficient to participate in the grievance process despite her repeated requests for allowing an interpreter.

While employers have a right to enforce a policy of one common language in the workplace, this was not the issue in this case. Preventing an interpreter attend to a grievance procedure regardless of the English ability of the worker, places a non-Irish worker at a significant disadvantage and is indirectly discriminatory. The WRC awarded the complainant €8,000 for the effects of race discrimination, but did not find she was victimised or harassed.