2 Cases That Remind Me Why I Love Being a Solicitor (Most of the Time)

irish solicitor

I have been involved in a couple of cases which were resolved this year, and which reminded me why I love my job and get a great deal of satisfaction in my work from time to time.

Both cases involved employees, both involved High Court legal proceedings, and both were settled with satisfactory outcomes for my clients.

The first one concerned a young man who had suffered a catastrophic psychological/psychiatric breakdown in the workplace. Our case was that the employer was negligent and was liable for the injury he suffered and therefore liable to compensate him for the personal injury and loss of earnings resulting from his subsequent inability to work due to the injury.

Our case was that the employer worked him excessively, placed demands on him which were beyond his capacity, his subsequent personal injury was forseeable and he was entitled to be compensated for this. We also pleaded breach of contract and breach of statutory duty in failing to provide a safe place of work in accordance with health and safety obligations.

In any legal contest it is inevitable that there will be at least two sides to every story and our case was not without its weaknesses. There is seldom a guarantee of success and given the nature of the injury my client had suffered there would always be a concern as to how he would be able to deal with a High Court case, cross-examination, and all the other attendant pressures of going to Court.

There was also other factors to be considered such as the length of time since the injury and the loss of income which was causing problems for my client and his young family, not least in relation to paying his mortgage and the normal day to day expenses you incur with a young family.

And there was, of course, the medical argument that he would only be able to fully recover once his case was finalised one way or another. It is very difficult to recover from a psychiatric or psychological injury if the case arising from that injury remains unresolved and there is a chance you will lose and be in even worse financial and health difficulty.

So, after three years or thereabouts the case was settled to his, and my, satisfaction. It gave me a great feeling of contentment when he came to the office to pick up the settlement cheque and he gave me a bottle of whiskey and a hug. It’s no coincidence that his appearance has improved greatly since the settlement and I have no doubt he is on the road to recovery and a new, less stressful phase in his life.

The other case involved a lady who has a professional qualification and is ambitious for her career. She quit her job with one employer and was moving to another as she saw it as a progression on her career path; besides, it was closer to home.

Her application for the new job went well and she was told she had the job, subject to, amongst other things, a satisfactory reference. However, the reference that her old employer provided was an appallingly inaccurate one. Not alone was it inaccurate it was defamatory of our client and painted her as unprofessional and lazy.

The outcome was that the job offer was withdrawn. When she contacted her old employer about the defamatory reference they immediately withdrew the reference and provided an honest, good reference instead. However, it was too late for the damage was done and her proposed new job had gone to another candidate.

We sued the old employer for defamation in the High Court on the basis that they had a duty to provide an honest, accurate reference and the issuing of the correct reference was done too late and our client had lost the new job and suffered other losses, and damage to her professional reputation, as a result of their negligence in allowing the first, bad reference be supplied to the prospective new employer.

It transpired that when a reference was first sought the furnishing of this reference was left to an employee who had a personal grudge against our employee and this employee took the opportunity to put the boot in when the chance arose.

It proved costly for the employer, however, leading to legal proceedings. This case, too, was settled to the satisfaction of our client. It is worth noting that these settlements, like virtually all such settlements, would be settled without an admission of liability by the employer.

But you will see from these cases that the circumstances which might give rise to legal proceedings are wide and varied: and once proceedings are issued it can be a long time between the act giving rise to the legal proceedings and the ultimate resolution of the case.

In the meantime the personal and financial toll that can come to weigh on the person bringing the claim, and their loved ones, can be terribly onerous.

For this reason it gives me a great sense of relief and gratification when the outcome is a satisfactory one and the client is happy and can put the whole affair behind him/her.

The Conduct of WRC and Labour Court Hearings-Be Prepared for Anything

If you are representing yourself at the WRC or Labour Court you will need to be prepared to adapt your approach depending on how the hearing is conducted.

Let me explain.

You may have familiarised yourself with the rules for the conduct of Labour Court hearings in Labour Court (Employment Rights Enactments) Rules 2016 which are made pursuant to the Workplace Relations Act, 2015.

You will have read, inter alia, as follows:

53. Except in such cases as the Court considers it convenient to take the written submissions as read, each party shall read their submission and the other party
will be afforded an opportunity to comment on the submission presented by the
other party.

 

54. Witnesses may give evidence and can be cross-examined by the party opposite
or their representative.

 

From these two rules you would expect, at a minimum, to be able to

  1. Comment on the submission of the other party
  2. Have your witness(es) give evidence and cross examine the evidence of witnesses from the other party

 

Being able to test the submission and evidence of the other party is, to my mind, of considerable importance. In any dispute it is vitally important that each sides version of events is tested.

I would have thought it was fundamental to the understanding of the 3 persons comprising the Division of the Labour Court hearing your case, particularly as the hearing is a de novo hearing, for rule 48 states:

48. An appeal shall be by way of a de novo hearing of the complaint to which the appeal relates

 

So, the Division hearing the case are starting from scratch and forming their own view, unsullied or influenced by the original hearing at the Workplace Relations Commission.

 

However, the Chairman of the Division has wide discretion for rule 47 states:

47. The conduct of the hearing of an appeal will be regulated by the Chairman of
the division of the Court before which the appeal is being heard
.

Therefore, you may have spent a lot of time closely scrutinising the submission of the other party with a view to picking holes in it and challenging it; you may have spent a lot of time anticipating what evidence the witness(es) for the other side will give; you may have spent a lot of time preparing questions for the cross examination of those witnesses; you may have spent a lot of time preparing questions for your own witness to show his case in the best light.

But it could well transpire that that time is, regrettably, completely wasted.

Because you may not get to do any of those things depending on how the hearing is conducted by the Chairman of the Division.

You will need to be ready for this and the best way to do this might be to have prepared your very best submission in the first instance as this submission (6 copies) has to be sent in to the Labour Court not less than 7 days before the hearing.

And then be ready to adapt to the way the Chairman decides to conduct the hearing.

The same situation can arise in a WRC (Workplace Relations Commission) hearing. I was involved in such a hearing in which I was representing the employer in a constructive dismissal case.

In a constructive dismissal case the burden of proof rests with the employee to prove that he/she had no choice but to leave the job due to the conduct of the employer, and that it was reasonable to do so.

I was looking forward to cross examining the employee and, in particular, asking why she had not availed of the grievance procedure in the workplace, why she had not told the boss that she had a problem, and why she had left in a precipitative fashion without giving my client, the employer, the chance to remedy the problem.

I also wanted to ask other questions such as the role her husband had played in her decision to quit, external, personal pressures that may have lain under the surface and which may have compelled her to make a hasty decision.

When the Adjudicator asked her why she had quit the claimant gulped a couple of times, took out a packet of tissues, tears began to run down her face, then she began to sob and the adjudicator, being a sympathetic, kind lady offered to break up the hearing so the claimant could gather her thoughts and recover.

Needless to say I never got to cross examine the claimant or even put one question to her as the conduct of the hearing is entirely within the discretion of the Adjudicator.

During the break the adjudicator approached me and suggested that the case should be settled. A brief conversation with her persuaded me that this was probably a good idea, even though we had a sound, robust defence. My fear was that we would never get to put forward our defence or cross examine in the way that was necessary and we took the option of a ‘tactical retreat’.

Or as Uriah Heap’s mother in David Copperfield exhorted: ‘Uri, Uri, be humble; make terms’ when the fraudulent, dishonest, deceitful activities of Uriah Heap were exposed by Mr. Wilkins Micawber.

In the circumstances, my client was forced to ‘make terms’ and to settle the case for a small amount of money but that’s not the point; we should still have been allowed to test the evidence and challenge the claimant’s version of events which were, quite frankly, incredible.

Sometimes, though, you need to be able to ‘read the room’ and adapt your strategy.

This may be what you will have to do is you are involved in a WRC or Labour Court hearing. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

The Mediation Act, 2017-What You Need to Know

mediation act 2017

The Mediation Act, 2017 came into law in Ireland in January, 2018. The purpose of this legislation is to allow parties to a dispute to avoid the costs of litigation and to reduce the number of disputes coming before the Courts.

Mediation is a collaborative process which aims to encourage the parties to a dispute to arrive at their own solution, with the professional assistance of the mediator. The mediator is to facilitate the parties and provide his/her professional expertise and experience but the determination of the dispute is up to the parties themselves.

The mediator can make proposals to resolve the dispute when the parties request this. There may also be a need for experts in a mediation if the issues are complex-for example a financial dispute with taxation implications.

It will have significant implications for solicitors in their daily practice of advising clients, and for clients who wish to institute litigation proceedings.

Before commencing legal proceedings on behalf of a client a solicitor will have to swear a statutory declaration that

  1. He/she has advised the client of the availability of mediation as a way to settle the dispute
  2. Give the client information about the benefits of using mediation, as opposed to instituting legal proceedings
  3. Give the client names and addresses of mediators who may be able to assist in resolving the issues between the parties
  4. Tell the client that mediation is voluntary and may not be appropriate where the safety of the client is at risk or where there is children and their welfare/health/safety is at risk
  5. Advise the client of the need for confidentiality in a mediation and the enforceability of a mediated agreement
  6. Advise the client of the solicitor’s obligation to provide a statutory declaration confirming the provision of the information above to the client

The statutory declaration should accompany whatever document is used to commence legal proceedings. If this does not occur the Court can adjourn proceedings until such time as the solicitor has provided the Court with the statutory declaration.

The Mediation Act, 2017 will not apply to certain proceedings, for example High Court judicial review proceedings and an arbitration under the Arbitration Act, 2010. The full scope of the act is set out in section 3, Mediation Act, 2017.

A court will be allowed to take into account when awarding costs any party’s unreasonable refusal or failure to use mediation.

Part 2 of the Act sets out the provisions re mediation generally including the role of the mediator, codes of practice, and the enforceability of settlement agreements arrived at through mediation.

Part 3 sets out the obligations of solicitors and barristers with respect to mediation and Part 4 sets out the role of the Court.

Section 19, Mediation Act, 2017 is an interesting one as it allows a Court to adjourn court proceedings to facilitate mediation:

9. (1) Where—

(a) parties have entered into an agreement to mediate, and

(b) one or more of the parties referred to in paragraph (a) commences proceedings in respect of the dispute the subject of the agreement to mediate,

a party to the proceedings may, at any time after an appearance has been entered and before delivering any pleadings or taking any other steps in the proceedings, apply to the court to adjourn the proceedings.

(2) On application to it being made under subsection (1), the court shall make an order adjourning such proceedings if it is satisfied that—

(a) there is not sufficient reason why the dispute in respect of which the proceedings have been commenced should not be dealt with in accordance with the agreement to mediate, and

(b) the applicant party was at the time when the proceedings were commenced, and still remains, ready and willing to do all things necessary for the proper implementation of the agreement to mediate.

(3) This section is in addition to and not in substitution for any power of a court to adjourn proceedings before it.

 

Some commentators have advanced the opinion that an employer, with an employment contract containing a clause agreeing to mediation in the even of a dispute, can have Court proceedings adjourned pursuant to section 19. It is too early to say how a Court will view this argument but it is probably advisable for an employer to have such a clause in his contract of employment as he has nothing to lose in doing so.

Section 16 provides for a court inviting the parties to engage in mediation and section 17 provides for the mediator to provide a report to the Court to explain why the parties have not so engaged or to explain why the mediation has failed and they wish to re-enter legal proceedings.

Conclusion

The Mediation Act, 2017 is to be welcomed as it should allow more parties in dispute resolve their issues without the cost of going to full blown legal proceedings including a Court trial.

And if you are an employer it cannot do you any harm to insert a clause in your contract of employment providing for the use of mediation before instituting legal proceedings.

‘Building a Case’-It’s Time to Put the Shovel Down

building a legal case

From time to time I am approached by a potential client who wants to ‘build a case’ against their former employer.

I quickly let the person know I have no interest in ‘building a case’, and advise them against it, too.

Let me tell you why.

If you have a valid legal claim or cause of action the ‘case/claim’ should be able to stand on its own two feet, without any requirement for ‘building’. To win a legal case you will need to do two things:

  1. Prove the facts that support your case
  2. Prove the law that supports your case

If you do not have facts that support a case from the outset all the building in the world will do you no good. You will be scrabbling around in desperation to try to cobble together some mish mash to get one over on your former employer, or the other party if it is not an employment related dispute. You would be far better off recognising that you are aggrieved, perhaps insensibly angry, and want to teach him/her a lesson.

But you run the risk of making an even bigger mess for yourself, and wasting time and money in the process if you embark on a course of ‘building a case’.

Look: when you are in a hole the first thing you need to do is put the goddamned shovel down.

Don’t misunderstand me. If you have a case a decent lawyer will recognise it very quickly.

What you need to do is give him/her the facts and relevant documentation surrounding your employment. Your solicitor will quickly recognise

  1. Whether you have a cause of action
  2. What the likelihood of success is
  3. What the possible remedies are.

When you have this information you will be ready to make a cool, rational decision about proceeding or not.

‘Building a case’

Building a case is not like building a wall or a dog house. When you are building a wall and there are no blocks you can use bricks, or stones. Building a dog house can involve all sorts of alternative materials.

But a legal case or claim must stand on its own facts. You cannot make them up. You cannot have ‘alternative facts’ as the White House spokesperson claimed in relation to Trump’s vainglorious claim that his inauguration crowd was the biggest since the pan was sliced.

Alternative facts are an oxymoron-a contradiction in terms.

Neither can you have alternative law-there has either been a breach of the law, and a consequent breach of your rights, or not.

It doesn’t matter whether it is an employment matter, defamation, property dispute, personal injury, breach of constitutional right, probate dispute, a commercial dispute, or a family law row.

The facts are the facts and the law is the law. Sooner or later your ‘case’ is going to have to face these inescapable facts and you are going to have to discharge the burden of proof to win your case.

As Charles Dickens said in Hard Times,

“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

I do not agree with this quotation, not in the slightest. Children should be taught much more than facts. Things like decency, honesty, kindness, generosity, an appreciation for beauty, art, literature, etc.

But when you are considering commencing legal proceedings or bringing an employment related claim you would do well to remember this quotation, for your case will walk slowly at first, and then run; or fall flat on its face.

Spend your time scrambling around in the weeds for stuff to ‘build a case’ and you will almost certainly fall.

Cross Border Employment Issues-Applicable Law, Jurisdiction, and Statutory Regime

cross border employment law

If employers and employees are located in different jurisdictions confusion can arise as to where an employee may enforce their legal entitlements. There are many types of legal rights, however, arising from a number of sources-for example the contract itself, statute, the constitution.

The questions arise as to what statutory regime will apply in any given situation, what is the applicable law of the contract of employment, and what Courts have jurisdiction to hear disputes.

Statutory regime?

The employee can rely on the statute law in force in the country where he/she works. This is so regardless of whether the contract says otherwise.

So, an employee working in Ireland for a US employer can rely on the Irish statutory employment law regime.

Likewise, an Irish employee working in Germany or France can enforce their rights in accordance with German or French employment law.

If the employee moves between two or more countries he can choose the statutory regime that is most favourable for his particular cause of action or issue.

Contract-what is the applicable law?

What is the applicable that will govern disputes between the parties arising from the contract?

What if the dispute is about the contract of employment and you will usually see a contract will state the ‘jurisdiction’ of the contract in the event of a dispute. However, the exclusive jurisdiction claimed by this clause in the contract can be curtailed or limited.

And jurisdiction is a different issue, in any event, than what is the applicable law in the evend of a dispute.

The ‘Rome 1 Regulation’ ( in respect of contracts of employment entered into on or after 17 December 2009, Article 8 of Regulation (EC) 593/2008, Rome) is the EU regulation which covers this area.

It states that the parties are free to choose what law will apply to the contract. If the parties have not chosen the rules are:

  1. The contract law applicable is the law of the country where the employee carries out his work
  2. if the employee is not fixed in one country the applicable law will be the law of the country where the business is located.

There is an exception to these two broad principles:if a contract is more closely connected to a particular country the law of that country will apply.

In looking at this ‘connection’ courts will look at a number of factors including

  • Where the employee is based
  • Where the employer is based
  • How the employee is paid
  • What currency
  • How the employee is managed
  • How disciplinary issues are dealt with, and from where

Jurisdiction-the Courts which can apply the applicable law

What courts have jurisdiction to hear an employment contract dispute?

The relevant regulation is Regulation (EU) 1215/2012, Brussels I (recast)

This Regulation allows the employee to sue

  1. Where the employer has its registered office or is domiciled
  2. Where the employee works

The employer can only sue on foot of the contract of employment where the employee is domiciled, notwithstanding the jurisdiction clause in the contract.

The Posted Workers Directive

The Posted Workers directive,Directive 96/71/EC, protects workers who are temporarily transferred or posted to another EU member state, by ensuring that they enjoy the same rights, terms and conditions as workers in the host state.

Conclusion

This is a potentially complex area of law; if you are involved in a potential dispute concerning cross border employment entitlements you ought to obtain legal advice.