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Employees in Clerys Liquidation

When a provisional liquidator was appointed to Clerys, that evening employees were informed that the store was being closed. As the business is being liquidated where does this leave the employees?

When a business is being liquidated, the employees are automatically dismissed when a Court order is made to wind up the company. The employees become preferential creditors under Section 621 of the 2014 Companies Act. This means the employees rank behind any secured charge holders (normally banks) who have a first charge over the property and assets of the company. Where there are sufficient funds to pay the secured charge holders fully, there may be funds left to pay the preferential creditors who will then receive some or all of the monies owed. The Companies Act provides for payment of arrears of wages or salary for employees for a period of 4 months before the date of appointment of a liquidator, provides for payment of holiday pay, payments to an employee who is ill and the payment of the company’s and employee pension contributions which cannot exceed more than €10,000 in a case of any one claim. Payments to preferential creditors will be reduced pro-rata where there are insufficient funds left to pay all of the preferential creditors.

If there are funds left for the preferential creditors, Clerys staff can seek to recover the payments set out above.

However, if there are no funds or limited funds for preferential creditors the Protection of Employees (Employer’s Insolvency) Acts 1984-2004 apply to protect employees (who are insurable under the Social Welfare Acts) in the event of an employer’s insolvency. The Insolvency Payments Scheme provides for limited payments for qualifying employees from the Social Insurance Fund, and it covers payments due to employees in liquidations, receiverships, bankruptcies and employees in Ireland working for employers who become insolvent within the EU. There is a loophole in the legislation in that it does not cover companies which cease trading and are insolvent but are never formally wound up.

 

The Social Insurance Fund will pay:

  • Up to 8 weeks arrears of salary limited to €600 per week.
  • Maximum 8 weeks statutory notice pay
  • Maximum 8 weeks holiday pay
  • Statutory redundancy pay for employees with over 2 years continuous service
  • Payments in respect of employment rights, claims for unfair dismissal, discrimination, and other claims relating to a period of 18 months prior to insolvency. The remuneration recovered is however limited.

 

TUPE or the EC Protection of Employees (Transfer of Undertakings) Regulations 2003  

Media reports indicate that there were a number of bidders for Clearys at the time of its sale and that some of these planned to keep the store open and trading for a further 12 months, with scaled down retail activity within the store. If another option had been taken up, the employees may have benefited from TUPE.

TUPE applies if a business or part of a business is sold and transferred to a new owner and retains its identity. In such circumstances all employees of the business automatically transfer with the business to the new entity and are protected against dismissal. Furthermore the terms and conditions of their employment are preserved on the transfer except for their pension rights. The new owner may make redundancies among staff after the transfer due to economic, technical and organisational reasons under the regulations, however, this exception will be carefully scrutinised by the tribunals. If a new employer is making staff that transferred redundant under this exception, the new employer is bound to pay the employees being made redundant their statutory redundancy, salary/wages for the contractual notice period and any ex-gratia redundancy payment which may become payable through a collective agreement or custom and practice. Usually on a sale of a business the parties provide for arrangements between the transferor and transferee to apportion liability for payment of staff redundancy and notice.

Cleary’s staff may be paid their legal entitlements by the company or by the Minister for Social Welfare under the Redundancy Payment Scheme. TUPE does not apply in an insolvency or bankruptcy situation unless the sole or main reason for bankruptcy or insolvency of the Transferor is the evasion of employers’ legal obligations to staff under TUPE.

 

This is a summary of recent developments and specific legal advice should be obtained. If you would like to discuss any aspect of this further, please contact Davnet@amoryssolicitors.com.