The Workplace Relations Act commenced on 1 October 2015. The Act radically reforms the way employment law claims are processed and adjudicated.
The Act has radically overhauled the previous complicated system for dealing with workplace disputes, consolidating five bodies into one resulting in a new body called the Workplace Relations Commission (the ‘WRC’) and a rejuvenated Labour Court for appeals.
The Act provides for a framework aimed at resolving workplace disputes quickly and efficiently. The confusion caused by the existence of five bodies in the previous system meant that the same dispute often wound up before multiple bodies, frustrating employers, employees and practitioners.
Within the WRC, the creation of a new position – Director General (DG) – means that in cases where the DG believes can be solved without intervention by the WRC, he/she will have the authority to direct cases to a mediator for resolution where both parties agree to the dispute being dealt with in this way.
Under the new system, cases will be adjudicated in private and decisions reached will be published publically in a suitable manner deemed by the WRC. Appeals hearings will be heard in public with private hearings only being allowed in exceptional circumstances.
The Act creates two new compliance measures in the form of a compliance notice and a fixed payment notice. These notices may be issued by the new Workplace Relations Inspectors in certain circumstances. As a result of this, employers are being advised to seek advice in carrying out an employment law 'audit' to ensure that their business is fully compliant should an inspector call.
The Act also amends the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 wording. Annual leave now accrues during sick leave for all employees. This amendment reflects the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the Schultz-Hoff and Stringer cases (C-350/060 and C520/06).
For the purposes of the entitlement to paid annual leave, an employee who is absent from the workplace on certified sick leave, will be deemed to have worked the hours he or she would have worked had it not been a day of illness. Employees who have been unable to take annual leave due to absence from work on sick leave will be entitled to take their annual leave within a carry-over period of 15 months following the end of the leave year.
In circumstances where the employment ceases, employers may have to pay the employee in lieu of annual leave not taken (including annual leave accrued during sick leave).
For more information on the Workplace Relations Act please see the links on this page.
If you would like to talk to us about how the Workplace Relations Act could affect your business, please submit the form below or contact Aoife Newton, Head of Employment Law, KPMG.
Q. Why do employers need to be aware of the Workplace Relations Act (the ‘Act’)?
A. The introduction of the Act and its imminent commencement on 1 October 2015 means there are significant changes in the way employment law claims are processed and adjudicated. The previously existing employment rights bodies have been consolidated into one – The Workplace Relations Commission ('WRC') – which will now handle all disputes at first instance. An expanded Labour Court will now hear all appeals of employment rights claims adjudicated upon by Workplace Relations Adjudicator who sit within the WRC. Employers should also be aware of new compliance measures - compliance notices and fixed payment notices – and changes they may have to make to their business to ensure compliance.
Q. What will the new structure look like?
A. The functions of the current employment rights bodies will be amalgamated into the WRC and the Labour Court will continue to operate as an appeals body.
Q. How will the WRC operate?
Q. How will claims be adjudicated and by whom?
A. Hearings will be heard in private before a single adjudication officer. Adjudication officers may dismiss a complaint if it is deemed to be frivolous or vexatious, although an employee can appeal this decision to the Labour Court within 42 days. Any claims involving separate areas of complaint will be heard together.
Q. How are appeals submitted? How are appeals conducted?
A. Decisions of the adjudication officers can be appealed to the Labour Court within 42 days – this can be extended in exceptional circumstances. A further appeal to the High Court is possible on a point of law only and within 42 days. Appeals will be heard in public.
Q. What will become of the EAT?
A. The EAT will continue to function for a limited time during the initial stages of WRC operation. The EAT’s functions will eventually be split, with the WRC hearing claims at first instance and the Labour Court taking over its appeals function.
Q. What will become of the LRC?
A. All the functions of the LRC will transfer over to the WRC with dissolution of the LRC on commencement day – 1 October. The functions which will transfer over include:
Q. What will this mean for equality claims?
A. Employment equality and equal status claims will be heard by adjudication officers with appeals to the Labour Court. Functions of the Director of Equality Tribunal will transfer to the DG of the WRC.
Q. Will the Labour Court stay the same?
A. The Labour Court will continue to function as it has been to a great extent; however, it will be expanded in line with the increase in its workload, with the addition of an extra division and an additional Deputy Chairman.
Q. What are the fees and costs of submitting a complaint to the WRC?
A. Fees have not yet been outlined, although the Act does provide a framework for fees to be charged for the operation of the system. €300 will be charged for lodging an appeal to the Labour Court if the appellant failed to attend the initial adjudication hearing – though this may be waived if the appellant has an exceptional reason for not being able to attend the hearing. Legal fees on both sides will continue to be covered by the individual parties regardless of the outcome.
Q. What is happening to the NERA inspectorate?
A. The NERA inspectorate will become WRC inspectors with inspectorate and enforcement functions. The Act also introduces two new compliance measures:
1. Compliance notice - If the employer has contravened a scheduled provision e.g. s. 18 Maternity Protection Act 1994, the employer can appeal the notice to the Labour Court within 42 days and, thereafter, appeal to the Circuit Court within 42 days. Service of the noticed does not prevent an employee claiming on foot of an alleged breach.
2. Fixed payment notices
Employers who commit a ‘relevant offence’ may receive a notice to pay no more than €2,000 within 42 days. If the payment is made, they will not be prosecuted. If no payment is made then the employer could be prosecuted in the District Court
A relevant offence includes:
Q. Is there any change to the time periods employees have under employment legislation to bring claims?
A. Before the Act, there were different time limits for employment rights claims. The Act has standardised those limits to referrals of claims within six months and this can be extended to twelve months where reasonable cause can be shown.
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