Workplace Relations Commission ("WRC") system
The WRC was established in Ireland on 1 October 2015. At the time, there were five employment bodies including an Employment Appeals Tribunal dealing with various claims under various legislation. In reality, this meant that employers could be obliged to attend multiple hearings over the same or similar issues. This became unworkable over time resulting in delays of one to two years in the receipt of certain hearing dates. As a result, the employment bodies were centralised in October 2015 leaving two courts: the WRC (Court of First Instance) (the WRC) and the Labour Court (Court of Appeal).
If the Claimant elects for mediation on their Complaint Form, phone or face-to-face mediation may be offered by the WRC's Mediation Service. If the Mediation Service do not believe the case is suitable for mediation the matter will be referred directly to the Adjudication Service for a hearing date. Adjudicators hear cases and issue determinations. The WRC hearing system is more informal than the civil courts. However, there is an entitlement to cross-examine witnesses. No subpoena process is currently available through the WRC. Similarly, it is not possible to seek discovery process. As a result, Subject Access Requests ("SAR") to employers under Data Protection legislation often precede a claim. We expect SARs to increase in light of the media campaign in Ireland around GDPR. Normally, employers are generally required to lodge a Submission or defence to a claim. Employees are required to lodge Submissions in some cases. There is no statutory penalty for failing to lodge Submissions. As a result, it is common for Submissions to be received on the morning of the hearing, which can prove challenging. We would always recommend our clients to lodge Submissions as it allows the client to clearly set out their case or defence (attaching key documentation) as well as identifying areas of dispute, which can reduce hearing times.
The consolidation of cases is welcome and over time should reduce the cost of defending cases for employers. It is also helpful that hearing dates are being received within a shorter timeframe.
The new system remains under resourced delaying the issuing of decisions. In addition, cases are only being assigned one session (typically between 2 and 4 hours) by the WRC. If the hearing does not finish within that session the parties will be assigned a further hearing date. This can result in increased costs arising from further preparation and attendance time. It can also take a number of months for a hearing to be assigned a resumed date depending on the Adjudicator's availability.
What do you need to know?
- The WRC is still a relatively new forum and continues to experience teething problems however progress has been made as evidenced by the recently published 2017 WRC Report.
- The 2017 Report confirms that 92% of adjudication complaints were processed in less than six months provided no adjournments were sought.
- Given that hearing dates are allocated in a short time frame we would recommend that decisions on whether to defend or settle claims should be taken at an early stage.
- In our experience preparation and anticipation of the Claimant's case are key to success as you may only receive the Claimant's Submissions on the morning of the hearing.