Stunned and taken aback.
They never thought it would be like this. A number of employees have been in touch with me recently.
They had decided to bring their own employment claims to the WRC (Workplace Relations Commission) and to represent themselves.
The first step they had to take appeared to be easy enough. All they had to do was fill out the online complaint form provided on the WRC website.
The ease with which you can submit the online form, however, can be a deceptive comfort. Because if you fail to fill out the form correctly or choose the wrong complaints or statutory breaches you will not get the chance to remedy it later on as you will almost certgainly be out of time.
Especially if you run into a legal team comprised of a firm of solicitors experienced in employment law. And they may even be instructing a barrister to defend their client, the employer, and will be looking at all technical defences open to them before they turn their attention to the substantive issues.
And let’s face it: the employer is likely to have deeper pockets than you to throw at the dispute. There may well be an inherent inequality of arms from the outset.
And remember: each party pays their own costs. So, even if the employee wins the employer will not be paying the employee’s legal costs.
But the biggest shock for the employees who contacted me came when the hearing was about to commence and they saw the number of witnesses ranged against them, and the extensive legal team.
And in the days prior to the hearing, they had received the “submission” of the other side. It was over 150 pages long and contained exhibits, appendices, case law, arguments, facts, background.
Nicely bound in a big folder. Professional. Intimidating.
And no sooner had the hearing started than the employer’s legal team was making preliminary objections about some of the claims brought by the employee, arguing about time limits, jurisdiction, and other confusing stuff.
Let’s be clear: if an employer runs the risk of losing employment claims that could result in pay-outs of up to 2 years’ salary he is not going to roll over without a fight. And to put it in context, an employee can bring a large number of claims arising from various breaches of employment law. Even if she only succeeds with a few of them could be a costly day out for the employer.
Not to mention the cost of the legal team.
An employee can bring his/her own claims to the WRC or the Labour Court.
But do not expect the employer to make it easy because often the consequences of losing could lead to significant cost and reputational damage to the employer.
He is going to defend himself with all the resources he can muster. At least be ready for that and don’t be surprised when it happens.