The Workplace Relations Act 2015 (the “Act”) has been in effect (with limited exceptions) since 1st of October 2015. The Act was developed against a backdrop of a bloated employment dispute framework consisting of a number of separate bodies and growing waiting lists.
Workplace Relations Commission (WRC)
Under the Act, the newly formed WRC subsumes the functions of the Labour Relations Commissions, Equality Tribunal and first instance functions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal. The Labour Court will have an expanded function, keeping its functions under the old system and absorbing the appeals function previously held by the Employment Appeals Tribunal.
The reduction from four dispute resolution bodies to two – with more easily identifiable functions (i.e. generally, the WRC is now the body that deals with disputes at first instance with the Labour Court holding appellate jurisdiction) is intended to result in a more approachable and understandable system for litigants. The increased efficiency of a centralised service is also being seen at this early stage as the WRC appears to be offering hearing dates much more promptly for new complainants. The WRC appears to be working separately through the backlog of pre-WRC complaints.
Dispute Resolution Procedure
The time limit for making a complaint to the WRC is typically 6 months after the incident resulting in the complaint occurred (though this can be raised to 12 months at the discretion of the WRC where exceptional circumstances are shown).
A WRC mediation process may take place on the consent of all parties. The prospect of mediation and an opportunity to object to mediation will be raised in early correspondence sent to the parties by the WRC. Mediation is conducted in private with any agreements reached being legally binding on both parties.
Where mediation is objected to by either party or is unsuccessful, the complaint will be forwarded to an adjudication officer. The adjudication will then consider the complaint.
The adjudication officer may elect to deal with the complaint by written submission only (unless either party objects to this within 42 days). The adjudication officer may make inquiries regarding the complaint at the outset and dismiss any complaints where he/she is of the opinion that the complaint as frivolous or vexatious.
Any oral hearing will be held in private with each party having an opportunity to present their evidence and be heard by the adjudication officer. The adjudication officer also has the power to serve notice on any person requiring him/her to appear at a hearing to give evidence or to produce documents to which the notice relates. A complainant is entitled to be accompanied by or represented by a trade union official, a practicing barrister/solicitor or any other person with the permission of the adjudication officer and in the case of a person under 18 years of age, a parent or guardian. The adjudication officer will then make a decision based on the hearing (and/or written submissions), giving a copy of that decision to each party. The decisions are also published online (though the identity of the parties is not revealed).
An appeal may be made to the Labour Court within 42 days. The Labour Court has a similar option to the adjudication officers in offering to deal with the appeal by written submission only (subject to objections).
Following a decision of the Labour Court, an appeal to the High Court on a point of law may be made within 42 days of the decision.
Where there is a finding against an employer, the employer has 56 days to implement a decision of an adjudication officer or 42 days to implement a decision of the Labour Court. Where the employer fails to do so, enforcement proceedings can be brought before the District Court.
The WRC also assumes the compliance and enforcement functions held by the National Employment Rights Authority (“NERA”).
The WRC can now appoint inspectors to ensure compliance with employment law. The inspectors have powers to examine and take copies of documents, records etc., as well as to require any person they believe to be an employee or an employer in the place or premises of inspection to answer questions relating to matters of employment law. Inspectors may acquire search warrants from the District Court in order to be accompanied during inspections by members of An Garda Síochána.
An Inspector may serve a compliance notice on an employer – failure to comply with a compliance notice is a criminal offence. Fixed payment notices (fines) can be issued by an inspector for non-compliance with certain legislation.
The Minister of Jobs Enterprise and Employment has the power to bring summary prosecution against employers allegedly in breach of employment legislation; these powers are to be transferred to the WRC.
What should I do?
Because of the increased powers in the hands of the inspectors, employers should consider introducing systems to ensure compliance with the various provisions of Irish employment law.