Are you thinking about bringing a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission and representing yourself? Are you concerned about the cost of getting professional representation-for example, from a solicitor or a HR practitioner?
Yes, it is possible to bring your own employment claims to the WRC or Labour Court. And it is easy to do.
All you need to do is fill out an online complaint form on the WRC website. You can find that form on this page.
Yes, it is not a difficult form to fill out. But it is also easy to get badly wrong. And if it is wrong and you are up against a solicitor or barrister when the hearing comes around you will find yourself in difficulty.
Because the other side may make a preliminary objection to your claim (s) on the basis of some technical defect in the filling out of the form. You may have missed one of the most important (and valuable) claims you could bring. You may have also chosen one that is inappropriate to your situation or has little prospect of success.
Or you may have chosen the wrong acts, the wrong claims. And it is too late when the hearing comes around to rectify this. Because you are likely to be hopelessly out of time to now submit the claim.
Remember: most employment claims must be brought to the WRC within 6 months of the alleged wrongdoing or events that gave rise to the complaint in the first place. You will almost certainly be out of time by the time you get a hearing date and are met with the preliminary objection from the employer’s legal team.
Let’s assume, however, that you have ticked the correct boxes in your WRC online complaint form and you are happy you have identified all possible claims against the employer.
Prove your case
You must prove your case to win.
First, you must identify if the burden of proof rests with you in the first instance, or does it rest with the employer?
Then, you need to make your submission. This will be your case. And you will need to deal with two broad areas in your submission:
- The facts or events which gave rise to the claims in the first place
- The relevant law for each of your claim
So, to put it at its plainest: you need to prove the facts, and then you need to prove the law-that is, the law is on your side, not the employers.
If you are only turning your attention and focus to these two broad areas on the day of the healing you will almost certainly lose.
You need to prepare well in advance. Real, solid preparation which will involve assembling all the facts as you see them, gathering your evidence to support your version of events and story, and legal research to ascertain that the law will come to your aid.
This will involve a mixture of statute law, perhaps common law, and case law-that is, relevant decisions in the WRC, the Labour Court, and the various civil courts.
If you are beginning to think that you are entering upon a real David v Goliath battle and that you are going to have great difficulty holding everything together sufficiently well to win against professionals, you are probably right.
It will be difficult. Not impossible, but difficult, and it will depend on the claims you have brought, which acts, the complexity or simplicity of the law surrounding the issues, and other factors.
One thing that will help you greatly in preparing for your case, and winning it, will be your submission. This submission should be sent in to the WRC, and sent to the other side, in advance of the hearing.
There are advantages and disadvantages of doing this, however. The advantage is that the adjudication officer will be able to read your submissions and understand the case you are making.
The disadvantage is the other side will also be able to see the nuts and bolts of your case and will be able to make last minute decisions to counter your arguments, case law, and so forth.
But without a sound, well prepared submission your case is almost certain to fail.
What about your submission, then?
Your submission should be easy to read and understand, I believe.
You will need to divide it up into sections. A popular way to do this is to make 4 sections:
- The facts/events/evidence to be adduced to support your claims
- The law supporting your case and why you should win under each head
- A conclusion setting out the remedy that you seek-for example, compensation or reinstatement or reengagement in an unfair dismissal case.
I have seen some cases being won by lay litigants.
But I have seen far more being lost due to naive, avoidable mistakes which the ordinary employee with no legal training can frequently make, and which will prove fatal to their case.
There is certainly a cost in engaging a solicitor and you need to weigh up carefully the cost/benefit considerations in bringing your case in the first place. Once you do decide to go ahead it should be a worthwhile exercise if you were to win, and not result in an award that does not even meet your legal costs.
Remember: each party pays their own legal costs at a WRC or Labour Court hearing, regardless of the outcome of the case. This contrasts with ordinary civil court where the losing party will pay the costs of the winning party.