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Workplace Relations Act 2015 (“The Act”) Commencing 1 October 2015

The new Act 

Employers will be relieved to hear that the main thrust of the Act is not to alter substantive employment rights of employees or to increase employers’ obligations under employment legislation.  

Amongst other matters, the Act effects structural changes to the employment dispute resolution bodies and harmonises a range of procedural matters, such as time limits within which an employee can bring a claim for example. 

Even while locked in dispute, employers and employees agree on one thing: that initiating or defending an employment dispute is complex, frustrating and inefficient. From 1 October 2015, this is to change. 

Referral of Complaints or Disputes

Prior to the enactment of the Act, employees had to select carefully between a number of dispute resolution bodies to which to refer a complaint: the Labour Court, the Rights Commissioner Service, the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Equality Tribunal.  

The choice of forum would depend on a number of factors including the legislation to which the complaint relates; whether the set of circumstances gave rise to a number of claims; whether those claims could be brought to the same forum or had to be processed through different fora; whether the employee could claim under two or more pieces of legislation for the same set of circumstances, to name just a few. 

The new Act has replaced the complex first step. Now, all complaints are referred to the Workplace Relation Customer Service within the Workplace Relations Commission. 

Once referred to the Workplace Relations Commission, the complaint can go one of two ways.  One, it can be referred to the Early Resolution & Mediation services, or two, it can be referred to Adjudication.   

Early Resolution & Mediation

A complaint or dispute may be referred to early resolution or mediation which is an informal dispute resolution method. Either party may object to a complaint or dispute being referred to early resolution and mediation.  If they do so, the complaint will go to adjudication.

If resolution is reached between the parties, a binding and enforceable agreement is signed by both parties.  

If resolution is not reached between the parties, the complaint is referred to adjudication. 

Adjudication 

An adjudication officer hears all complaints at first instance. All complaints lodged, whether under different pieces of employment legislation or not, will be scheduled for hearing together at first instance before the same adjudicating officer, obviating the need for "forum shopping". 

The hearing will be in private and the decisions will be published in anonymised form. 

Under the Act, complaints or disputes may be dealt with by written submission only, provided the parties do not object.  

Appeal to the Labour Court

All appeals will go to the Labour Court, with one exception. If the complaint is lodged under the Equal Status Acts, there is a right of appeal to the Circuit Court. 

Appeals will be heard in public, unless the Labour Court decides that they should be in private due to special circumstances. The case will be reheard de novo by the Labour Court and their decisions will be published. The Labour Court will have the power to determine its own procedures.  

The Labour Court will act as a court of final appeal for adjudication officer decisions, again with one exception. Either party may bring a further appeal from a determination of the Labour Court to the High Court on a point of law only. The High Court’s decision will be final.  

Welcome Change

The simplification of a cumbersome process will be welcomed by employers and employees alike. Currently, a complaint under the Unfair Dismissals legislation may be heard on four different occasions consisting of a re-hearing of all of the evidence: by the Rights Commissioner, the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Circuit Court and then the High Court. None of the appeals is an appeal on a point of law.  

Clearly, such a procedure was costly, cumbersome and inefficient for both employers and employees and has the potential for unfairness to either or both parties. 

The revised structure is more streamlined and a welcome change.

For further information on this topic, please contact Laura Graham at lgraham@reddycharlton.ie 


Keywords: Publication, Laura Graham, Employment Law

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