The Workplace Relations Act 2015 (“the Act”) commenced on 01 October 2015. The Act amends 24 Acts and numerous Statutory Instruments. This is the biggest change to how employment claims are dealt with since the introduction of the Unfair Dismissals Act in 1977. Barry Walsh, Partner and head of the Employment Law Unit and Mark Kelly, Solicitor in the Dispute Resolution and Litigation Unit explore the impact of the new Act.
Structure for Hearing Disputes
A new two-tier workplace relations structure will be created.After 01 October, all employment claims will firstly be dealt with by the Workplace Relations Commission (“the WRC”). Any appeals from the WRC will go to The Labour Court.
The Director General of the WRC may refer the complaint or dispute to a mediation officer if it is considered that the matter is capable of being resolved other than by adjudication. Both parties must agree to the matter being dealt with in this way. This is akin to the early resolution and mediation services which were offered by the Labour Relations Commission and mediation provided by the Equality Tribunal under the old regime.
Adjudication and the Format of Hearings
Where mediation is not employed or is unsuccessful, the complaint or dispute will be referred to an Adjudication Officer.
Complaints must be brought within six months, extendable by the Adjudication Officer to twelve months where “reasonable cause” is shown. Claims will be heard by a single adjudication officer in private or the matter may be dealt with by written submission only, if both parties agree.
In employment equality and constructive unfair dismissal complaints, a detailed statement will be required from the complainant when submitting their complaint form. In all other unfair dismissal cases, a statement will be required from the respondent within 21 days of the date of the request from the WRC.
Decisions of the Adjudication Officer will be issued in writing within 28 days of the hearing or “as soon as practicable” and will be published with the parties names anonymised.
Appeals against decisions of Adjudications Officers must be made to the Labour Court within 42 days of the date of the decision. This timeline is extendable in exceptional circumstances. The Labour Court may also decide to deal with the appeal by written submission only, subject to either party objecting.
Labour Court hearings will be held in public unless the Labour Court decides by virtue of special circumstances that it should be held fully or partly in private.
Decisions of the Adjudication Officers are enforceable through the District Court in a new streamlined process.
Investigation and Compliance Measures
- Investigation - The NERA authorised officers and inspectors will have similar roles with the WRC. The Act has consolidated the powers of Inspectors to enter, collect and remove documentary and personal evidence in relation to alleged breaches of workplace legislation.
- Compliance Notice – The Compliance Notice is a new measure introduced by the Act. An inspector may now serve a Compliance Notice on an employer where the inspector is satisfied that a breach of the relevant workplace legislation as specified in the Act has occurred. The Compliance Notice will set out the manner in which the contravention must be rectified by the employer. A Compliance Notice may be appealed to the Labour Court, with a further appeal to the Circuit Court. A failure to comply with a Compliance Notice is an offence under the Act. The existence of a Compliance Notice does not prevent the WRC from taking a prosecution for the offence.
- Fixed Payment Notice – Under the Act, an inspector may also serve a Fixed Payment Notice, up to a maximum of €2,000 on an employer where the inspector reasonably believes that an employer has committed an offence under the legislation as prescribed in the Act. This is another new measure under the Act. If the Fixed Payment Notice is discharged within 42 days no prosecution will be commenced.
- Prosecution - The WRC has also taken over the role of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to institute summary prosecutions against employers who are alleged to be in breach of the law concerned.
More information on the WRC and the Labour Court can be found here.
Remember that this article is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific advice should always be taken in given situations.
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