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Update on the new WRC Unfair Dismissals system – Adjudication Officers’ decisions

Barry Walsh



Employment law complaints made on or after 1 October 2015 are heard by adjudication officers of the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) at first instance and by the Labour Court on appeal. The long established Employment Appeals Tribunal (“EAT”) is no more, except for legacy claims. This has transformed the unfair dismissals landscape. Some recent decisions under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977-2015 (the “UDA”) have now been published on the WRC website which gives a glimpse into the operation of this new system.  Decisions by adjudication officers are anonymised, following hearings held in private, and as such there may be less media coverage of these decisions.  The decisions themselves appear to be more comprehensive and reasoned than previous EAT determinations. This is helpful for employers to better understand what is expected of them in such situations. The decisions also indicate the timeline of the claims.  Complaints received in early October were heard in February, indicating a significantly faster system.  A brief summary of two recent decisions is set out below:

Decision 1: The claimant employee here was employed as an engineer for twelve years.  He claimed he was dismissed in circumstances where he was not permitted to take a lunch break.  He had been requested to attend a client’s premises immediately but, as he had not eaten all day, he stopped to pick up some lunch. A company director phoned the employee querying his delay and told the claimant it was “the end of the road” and “it wasn’t working out”. The claimant asserted that this constituted a dismissal, which was ultimately denied by the employer.  In evidence at the WRC hearing, the director admitted telling the claimant it was “not working out”. On that basis the WRC adjudication officer found it was reasonable for the claimant to consider himself dismissed.  As the employee had no employment contract and the employer had no HR policies, it was held that it was difficult for the claimant to challenge his dismissal.  The adjudication officer found that the claimant contributed to the dismissal through his actions and on that basis limited the award to €17,500.

Decision 2: Here the claimant employee alleged that he was dismissed for his use of language to his manager and his subsequent refusal to apologise.  Following a disciplinary hearing, the claimant was advised that the HR manager was considering issuing a final written warning only, so long as the claimant apologised to his manager. The claimant refused to apologise.  He was subsequently dismissed as he showed no willingness “…to restore reasonable trust and working relations” with his manager. The WRC adjudication officer observed that it was the HR manager rather than the line manager who insisted on the apology and that the claimant had received a very favourable appraisal a few days prior to the incident in question.  The WRC ruled that the original offence did not warrant dismissal and obviously therefore the refusal to apologise did not justify dismissal either.  However, as the claimant contributed to his dismissal, the award was reduced to €10,000.