Software company CEO accused of bullying in constructive dismissal case

Staff member says she was physically sick after ‘angry and very aggressive’ outburst

A former software company executive has accused the firm of constructive dismissal over its handling of her bullying complaint. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

A former software company executive has accused the firm of constructive dismissal over its handling of her bullying complaint following an “angry and very aggressive” outburst from its chief executive that left her so upset she was “physically sick” on her way home from work.

In a case brought under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977, a solicitor for Leonie Sheils said there was “no procedure” for an appeal after an external HR consultant rejected a complaint against Symetri Ltd which included allegations against its chief executive, Cormac Lyons.

“I felt very small. I felt I was down on my knees to people who were very firm in the outcome report that none of this happened. It just felt so unfair,” Ms Sheils told the Workplace Relations Commission at a hearing on Tuesday.

The claim is denied by the firm, which argues that by failing to lodge a formal appeal before she quit in November 2022, Ms Sheils gave the company “no course of action” and “absolutely no leeway”.

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Ms Sheils said Mr Lyons shouted at her and two other female staff on Friday, July 8th, 2022, and that she was so upset she had gone to the bathroom “crying” and “shaking”.

She and other staff had found themselves locked out of the office that morning, she told the WRC, and Mr Lyons had arrived in an “agitated, angry and very aggressive” state to unlock the building for them, asking the workers: “Why don’t you have keys?”

After hearing Mr Lyons speaking to a manager by phone about keys to the office and demanding to know where they were, she remarked that staff “didn’t want to have keys”.

On hearing this, Mr Lyons approached her at her desk and said “What did you say? Excuse me? Do you not agree it’s your responsibility to have keys?,” she said.

“I said I don’t agree, because I’d asked for keys in the past and was told there’d be someone there to let me in,” Ms Sheils said.

She said that after Mr Lyons emerged again from his office and had her perform a work task, her colleagues asked whether she was okay. “I went to the bathroom; I started crying, shaking; I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was upset most of the day – I just wanted to get in my car and go home,” she said.

When she did leave the office later that day, she said she had to pull over and was “physically sick” at the side of the motorway.

Due to the absence of other colleagues the following week, she was left as the main person on her team and “couldn’t avoid dealing with Cormac Lyons”. She told the tribunal she suffered a “full-on anxiety attack” on the Monday.

The following day, she submitted a formal complaint to Johan Lundqvist, a senior group HR officer in Sweden, she added.

Questioned about why she quit before registering a formal appeal of the investigation outcome, Ms Sheils said she did not want to breach the terms of the company handbook by referring the matter to someone previously involved in the investigation of her complaint. She said the message given to her was that appeals were to be made “to management” and that she regarded this as “very vague”.

Mr Lyons said in evidence that the company’s handbook was “quite clear” in setting out the process for an appeal. He said: “If we’d received [a] formal appeal, we’d certainly have outsourced it again, in terms of fairness, I think.”

Questioning the independent investigator, human resources consultant Ray Ryan, Mr McGrath asked why he had chosen not to speak to Ms D.

He said that he took the view by the time he got to the end of Ms Sheils’ “list of complaints”, he had taken the view “on the balance of probabilities based on my experience as an investigator that there was no validity to the complaints”.

“I made a decision as an informed investigator that the complaint of bullying as raised by Ms Sheils was not well founded,” he said.

The adjudicator, Mr McGrath, closed the hearing yesterday evening and will issue his decision in writing to the parties in due course.