Categories
Employment Claims

What Happens When a Party Does Not Attend a WRC Hearing?

Labour Court Appeals

I attended a WRC hearing recently with a client, the employer on this occasion, and the employee/Complainant did not show up to present his case and be heard.

For our side there was myself, my client and two witnesses and we had prepared thoroughly for the case.

My client and the witnesses had taken time off work and cancelled engagements to be there to meet the claim. I had blocked the day off in my calendar because it is impossible to know how long any case will take to be heard; it depends on a number of factors including

  • The adjudicator
  • The number of complaints
  • The number of witnesses
  • Any documentation to be considered
  • The complexity of the issues to be teased out
  • And so on.

In this case, however, I argued that the case should be struck out for want of prosecution. I argued that if the Complainant wanted an adjournment he could easily have requested one as notification of hearings usually give at least 3 or 4 weeks’ notice and this complainant’s representative advised the adjudicator that his “client” was out of the country.

We have not had a decision yet but I would be hopeful that my application that it be thrown out for want of prosecution will succeed.

My understanding is that unless there is some credible excuse or explanation, and provided the adjudicator is satisfied the non-attending party has been notified of the hearing, that the case will fail.

This is what happened in ADJ-00025136 involving a service worker and hospital and a claim under the Redundancy Payments Acts. The Complainant did not show up and the adjudicator was satisfied he was informed in writing of the date, time, and place of the hearing.

The Respondent was ready to present their case and the Adjudicator found “In these circumstances and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary I conclude that the complaint is not well founded.”

Preparing properly for all these WRC cases takes time and money and it is only right that a party who fails to attend, unless there is an exceptional reason, should be penalised. Perhaps there would be less “no shows” if the parties had to pay an application fee when making the claim, which fee could be returned once they go ahead with their claim and it is not an abuse of process and is not frivolous or vexatious.

Categories
Health and Safety

The Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act 2020-Important Employment Law Changes

The Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act 2020 came into effect this week. The act contains some remarkable provisions in the public interest to help fight the effects of the coronavirus.

Let’s take a look at at some key aspects of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act 2020 as the act impacts on employment law in Ireland.

The Temporary Wages Subsidy Scheme

Part 7 of the act provides for this scheme which has been the subject of two sets of guidelines from the Revenue Commissioners. Here is the most recent guidelines on employer eligibility to the wages subsidy scheme.

Key points regarding the guidelines are

  • The employer must self declare that he has been seriously impacted and is a statement that as a result of the coronavirus he will be unable to pay normal wages, wants to retain employees, and will suffer a decline of at least 25% of turnover during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • An employer who has significant cash reserves will be expected to pay a significant proportion of the employee’s wages, even if he has suffered a decline in business
  • The 25% turnover decrease calculation can be carried out on any basis that is reasonable
  • There is some supporting proofs required for Revenue
  • The names and addresses of employers availing of the subsidy will be published
  • There are 2 phases: phase 1 from 15th March 2020 to 20th April 2020 and phase 2 from April 20th, 2020
  • Employees must have been on the payroll on 29th February 2020

There has been criticism of this scheme from various quarters and, no doubt, it is not perfect. But given the circumstances and the need for speed it is inevitable that some infirmities or anomalies would arise. Nonetheless, with goodwill on all sides it is probably worth a fair chance to see the wages subsidy scheme in action.

Redundancy payments changes

Part 8 of the act makes a change to the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 and provides clarity concerning layoffs and short time working during the COVID-19 crisis.

This emergency legislation suspends the employee’s right to a redundancy payment pursuant to section 12 of the Redundancy Payments Act 1967.

Section 12 provides

F31[12.—(1) An employee shall not be entitled to redundancy payment by reason of having been laid off or kept on short-time unless—

(a) he has been laid off or kept on short-time for four or more consecutive weeks or, within a period of thirteen weeks, for a series of six or more weeks of which not more than three were consecutive, and

(b) after the expiry of the relevant period of lay-off or short-time mentioned in paragraph (a) and not later than four weeks after the cessation of the lay-off or short-time, he gives to his employer notice (in this Part referred to as a notice of intention to claim) in writing of his intention to claim redundancy payment in respect of lay-off or short-time.

(2) Where, after the expiry of the relevant period of lay-off or short-time mentioned in subsection (1) (a) and not later than four weeks after the cessation of the lay-off or short time, an employee to whom that subsection applies, in lieu of giving to his employer a notice of intention to claim, terminates his contract of employment either by giving him the notice thereby required or, if none is so required, by giving him not less than one week’s notice in writing of intention to terminate the contract, the notice so given shall, for the purposes of this Part and of Schedule 2, be deemed to be a notice of intention to claim given in writing to the employer by the employee on the date on which the notice is actually given.]

This new legislation inserts a new section 12A which suspends the employee’s right to claim redundancy during the emergency period which is defined as the period from 13th March 2020 to 31st May 2020. This period oculd be extended, however, depending on how the coronavirus is being dealt with.

The critical impact of this provision is to give employers some comfort regarding the fear they had that they would face a large number of claims for redundancy arising from forced layoffs or short time working.

Here is the bill as it was passed by the Dail on Friday 27th March 2020: Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020.

This act also makes emergency provisions regarding the operation of the Residential Tenancies act 2004, time limits relating to planning and development, health and social care professions, the Mental Health Act 2001, the Defence Act 1954, the Civil Registration Act 2004, the Redundancy Payments Act 1967.

Categories
Redundancy Unfair Dismissal

Disciplinary Record and Attitude Cannot Be Used in an Objective Selection for Redundancy

redundancy claims
Redundancy selection criteria must be objective

This case involved a man who brought a claim for unfair dismissal arising from his redundancy. His claim was founded on his contention that he was unfairly selected for redundancy and subjective criteria, which are personal to the employee, should not have been considered.

Background

The employer in this case was funded by a Government Department but funding was only going to continue to be available for 7 supervisors, from 9, into the future. One supervisor took voluntary redundancy and one further redundancy was needed.

A redundancy selection matrix and procedure was adopted but the Complainant was sceptical about the criteria being used. An interview panel was set up and interview meetings, along with an application form which had been completed by all supervisors, was used to arrive at the choice of who would be made redundant.

The Complainant was chosen for redundancy and he appealed this decision. His appeal was unsuccessful and the employer’s position was that the Complainant was chosen for redundancy because he had the lowest score of all the applicants.

He received a redundancy payment of €9,336.

The employer defended the redundancy procedure adopted and pointed out that it involved an external HR consultant and a matrix of criteria which would allow scores to be given to the employees.

The employer argued that the function of the WRC was not to look behind the matrix and procedure adopted unless there was manifest unfairness.

The Complainant argued that he had unfairly received a verbal warning in the course of employment and it was unfair, and that the matrix adopted by the employer was unfair and unbalanced. He also argued that last in first out should have been used,which would have saved his employment.

Moreover, he argued that it was improper to use attendance, disciplinary record and attitude towards colleagues in the matrix because these criteria were linked to the person, not the position that was being cut.

He relied on JBC Europe Limited –v- Jerome Ponisi [2012] 23 E.L.R 70 as authority for the proposition that redundancy cannot be used as a cloak for weeding out employees who are perceived to have competence or health or age-related issues.

The complainant also pointed out that a supervisor with 5 years less service scored higher than him in the matrix adopted, and he disagreed with this.

Findings of the WRC adjudication

The adjudicator pointed out that the redundancy must involve a genuinely fair selection process and the termination must arise from a real redundancy. The burden of proof was on the employer to prove it was genuinely redundancy related and must be able to justify the selection process.

The WRC adjudicator was satisfied that a genuine redundancy existed and this was the reason for dismissal. Regarding selection for redundancy she referred to Boucher v Irish Productivity Centre R92/1992 which held:

“to establish that he acted fairly in the selection of each individual employee for redundancy and that where assessments are clearly involved and used as a means for selection that reasonable criteria are applied to all the employees concerned and that any selection for redundancy of the individual employee in the context of such criteria is fairly made”.

The adjudicator held that selection criteria cannot be based on subjective assessments of employees. The assessment must have independent, objective and verifiable criteria.

She held: In Bunyan v United Dominions Trust (Ireland) Ltd [1982] I.L.R.M. 404 the EAT endorsed and applied the following view quoted from NC Watling Co Ltd v Richardson [1978] IRLR 225 EAT (ICR 1049)

“the fairness or unfairness of dismissal is to be judged by the objective standard of the way in which a reasonable employer in those circumstances in that line of business, would have behaved. The tribunal therefore does not decide the question whether, on the evidence before it, the employee should be dismissed. The decision to dismiss has been taken, and our function is to test such decision against what we consider the reasonable employer would have done and/or concluded.”

The adjudicator held that the Complainant was unfairly dismissed because he was unfairly selected by reason of the use of subjective criteria of disciplinary history, attitude towards his managers and not being a cooperative colleague were taken into consideration and should not have been.

She held that a “fair scoring system” was not in place for selection.

The adjudicator noted that he had not suffered any financial losses because he had received a redundancy payment and had secured new employment but awarded him 4 weeks gross remuneration-that is, €2,688.00-to reflect the finding that he was unfairly selected and therefore unfairly dismissed.
Read the full decision of the Workplace Relations Commission here.

Categories
Employment Claims

The Towering Fear of Losing Your Employment Case-Don’t Make This Mistake

Michael carried his workplace grievances around with him like a man dragging a clanking chain.

It all started about 12 months ago when his employment was terminated unexpectedly. Michael was shocked and firmly believed he was unfairly dismissed. 

So he submitted a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977. 

Michael read somewhere that it was a good idea to make a data request of the employer under the Data Protection legislation/GDPR. He had read about a case for constructive dismissal had been won because the employee had made a data access request and it uncovered email evidence of the intention to terminate the employee’s employment. The employee was awarded €50,000(Data Access Request Uncovers “Smoking Gun” Evidence to Win €50,000 Constructive Dismissal Case).

But when Michael received his personal data from the employer he believed it was not complete-there was stuff missing. So he made a complaint to the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner. 

He was then deeply unhappy with the way the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner dealt with his complaint and commenced legal proceedings against that office.

By the time Michael came to visit me he had also submitted a claim to the Injuries Board because he believed he had suffered a psychological or psychiatric injury as a consequence of the anxiety and stress that the dismissal from his job had caused.

His WRC hearing is coming up next week and he is getting nervous. Nervous he will lose and his sense of grievance and wrong will be deepened even further.

Now he sits in front of me and I am thinking hard about the best way to break it to him. By “break it to him” I mean my view that apart from a towering sense of grievance the only real cause of action he has is the unfair dismissal claim.

And I truly believe his prospects with this claim are less than 50/50. Because there is a good chance the employer will be able to prove there were “substantial grounds” to dismiss. (There had been a few disciplinary issues over the years with a live warning on his file).

Fear of picking one claim

I meet quite a substantial number of persons who are deeply aggrieved with the unfair way they believe they were treated by their employer. 

But when they must pin their colours to the mast and put their claim in front of a third party such as a Workplace Relations Commission adjudicator they are afraid. Afraid of losing. Afraid that the third party will not see the situation in the same light as them.

So they search around. They search around for other allegations and claims to make because they want to win and get one-something-over on the employer.

Because they want an “each way” bet, just in case their claim fails. They are confident, of course, but just in case..

The essence of the claim

When I look at the facts, however, I see that when the claim is stripped down to its essence the issue to be decided will be a simple one: was the termination of the employment a discriminatory dismissal?

If Michael can prove this he wins. If he cannot, his claim is bound to fail. All the other stuff will be a sideshow, an attempt to nail the employer with something. But that’s all.

Avoiding the stark truth

Michael, like many employees I meet, will raise all sorts of spurious, tangential grievances and complaints because they want to avoid the stark truth. The truth that their claim may fail and it will hurt.

The third party

No matter how strongly you feel about the way you were treated in the workplace, regardless of your dispute with a property owner or a neighbour or anyone else for that matter, ultimately a third party will decide on the merits of your case.

This third party may be the Workplace Relations Commission, the Labour Court, any of the Civil Courts (District, Circuit, High, Supreme). It doesn’t matter-the bottom line is somebody will give a binding opinion on whether your case wins or loses.

Conclusion: be honest with yourself

You need to accept that you may win, or you may lose, but you need to be honest with yourself. Let the case or claim stand or fall on its merits, its facts, the law supporting it.

Don’t waste your time trying to concoct a case if none exists. You owe it to yourself to let a decision be made, if that is what you want, give it your best shot and appeal if necessary.

Then, accept it and move on.

Categories
Redundancy

Lay-off and Short Time and Coronavirus-the Essentials

“Lay-off” and “short time” are phrases that are being bandied about now because of COVID-19. Do you know what they actually mean from an employment law perspective?

“Lay-off” is defined in the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967-2014 and happens when the employer is temporarily unable to provide work for the employee.

“Short time” describes the situation where the employer cuts the wages or hours of the employee to less than 50% of the normal hours or pay.

The employee is supposed to be given notice, although no time period is specified, and the employer must reasonably believe it is only for a temporary period of time. Choosing employees for lay off or short term should be done fairly and in a way that will not give rise to a claim of discrimination.

Pay

The employer cannot, at common law, put an employee on lay-off without pay or place him on short time unless

  1. There is a clause in the contract allowing lay-off or
  2. There is an implied right to do so

The implied right would derive from custom and practice in the industry or in the particular employer’s business.

However, there has been decided cases in the WRC (Workplace Relations Commission) or the Rights Commissioner Service/Employment Appeals Tribunal that held there is an established practice in Ireland that lay-off without pay can be permitted where it can be shown that it is custom and practice in the industry/trade.

Redundancy

The employee may be entitled to redundancy. If she has been laid off or on short time for 4 or more consecutive weeks or for 6 weeks (not more than 3 consecutive) in a 13 week period the employee can serve a notice on the employer to claim redundancy. The employer, however, can serve a counter-notice denying the redundancy if he can give the employee 13 weeks work without lay off or short time. This work must be available within 4 weeks of the employee’s notice.

Alternatives to lay-off and short time

Alternatives to lay-off and short time include 

  1. Annual leave
  2. Parental leave
  3. Unpaid leave

Both employer and employee need to be flexible at this time.You can learn more about short time, lay-off, and redundancy here.