Courts Will Not Intervene When WRC Can Handle Employment Dispute

The Court of Appeal will not interfere in an employment dispute when there is a statutory regime in place to deal with the row.

This was confirmed again recently in a case involving a solicitor who asked the High Court and the Court of Appeal to intervene in his problem concerning his proposed redundancy.

Background

The solicitor, Mr Kearney, was employed by Byrne Wallace solicitors since 2006. Mr Kearney was made redundant in August 2017 and was given his contractual notice period. He disputed this redundancy on a number of grounds including:

  1. The claim that it was not a genuine redundancy
  2. The claim that fair procedures were not followed in carrying out the redundancy

The High Court refused Mr Kearney’s application for an injunction restraining his dismissal and made an important distinction which is worth noting. The High Court found that where the employee is given their contractual entitlements there is no role for the High court to intervene because there was no breach of contract.

Sham redundancy?

The sham redundancy argument is a separate one and one which the High Court found must be brought under Unfair Dismissals legislation before the Workplace Relations Commission in the first instance.

Mr Kearney also argued that there was an implied term in respect of fair procedures in his contract and on this basis there was a breach of contract, which would allow the High Court to intervene. The High Court accepted the argument from Byrne Wallace that there was no specific term of his contract breached and therefore could not get involved, holding that the correct venue for Mr Kearney was the Workplace Relations Commission.

Mr Kearney appealed the case to the Court of appeal and argued that the Courts should not restrict themselves to cases where there was a breach of an express term alone but should hear cases where there was breaches of implied terms such as those of mutual trust and confidence between the parties.

The Court of appeal rejected this argument and relied on the Nolan v Emo Oil case as authority for the proposition that the employer is entitled to terminate a contract of employment provided proper notice is given.

The Court of Appeal did not reject the argument that an employer could be in breach of an implied term of the contract of employment thereby allowing the Court to intervene on the basis of a contractual breach. In this case, however, the Court of appeal held that Mr Kearney had failed to prove breaches by the employer of implied terms of trust and confidence and had failed to prove bad faith by Byrne Wallace.

Conclusion

Unless there is a breach of the contract of employment the Civil courts will not get involved in a redundancy and the employee will be directed to the WRC with any claim or dispute on the basis of an unfair dismissal claim under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977.

Case Law

Read the High Court decision in Kearney v Byrne Wallace here.

Read the Court of Appeal decision in Kearney v Byrne Wallace here.

Court of Appeal Clarifies the Legal Right to Representation in Disciplinary Proceedings in the Workplace

irish rail v barry mckelvey

A decision delivered by the Court of Appeal at the end of October 2018 throws further light on this question of the right to legal representation in the workplace during disciplinary hearings.

This issue was thrown into some degree of confusion by what appeared to be inconsistent High Court decisions in the cases of Lyons v Longford Westmeath Education and Training Board, E.G. v The Society of Actuaries in Ireland, and N.M. v Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board. (You can read about these 3 High Court decisions here).

Iarnród Éireann / Irish Rail v Barry McKelvey

In this case Mr. McKelvey, an Irish rail inspector was subjected to a disciplinary procedure in his workplace into an allegation of misuse of company issued fuel cards and alleged theft of fuel which led to “significant financial loss” for the employer. Mr. McKelvey was denied the right to legal representation at the disciplinary hearing. Mr. McKelvey went to the High Court about this issue and sought to have the disciplinary hearing halted.

The High Court decided that he was denied fair procedure and constitutional/natural justice by reason of this refusal by Iarnród Éireann, even though he had the assistance of an experienced trade union official.

The High Court halted the disciplinary proceeding against Mr. McKelvey as it held that he was entitled to legal representation. The High Court arrived at this decision due to a number of factors including:

  • The impact on his reputation and future employment prospects
  • The complexity of the case
  • The fact that issues of law would probably arise in the proceeding

The High Court decision to halt the disciplinary proceeding was appealed to the Court of Appeal by Irish Rail.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court in identifying the factors that a Court should look at when deciding this issue.

It disagreed with the High Court’s decision in the case of Mr. McKelvey, however, and held that the High Court had misapplied the factors to the circumstances of the case.

The Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the High Court and held that legal representation should only be granted in the most exceptional of circumstances. It also held that natural justice and fair procedures could be applied without the need for a lawyer and the help of an experienced trade union representative was sufficient stating, inter alia,

“While it is true to say that Mr McKelvey faces a disciplinary inquiry which could lead to his dismissal and which has the further potential to impact on his future employment prospects and his reputation, in this regard he is no different to a very substantial percentage of employees facing allegations of misconduct in the workplace. In my view, the allegation of misconduct made against Mr McKelvey is a straightforward one and I am not satisfied that he has identified any factual or legal complexities that may arise that he should not be in position to deal with adequately with the assistance of [his trade union representative].”

The Court of Appeal also made the point that workplace disciplinary investigations and hearings should not be directly compared with investigations and hearings carried out by professional regulatory bodies such as the Medical Council or other professional regulatory bodies.

The Court of Appeal did not clarify definitively, however, the question of the right to cross examine witnesses in a disciplinary hearing as Irish Rail had allowed this as part of its procedure and the question did not have to be addressed in the Court of Appeal.

Nevertheless, it is advisable that this right is afforded to employees involved in a disciplinary hearing even though there appears remain a difference of opinion amongst lawyers on this point.

The Court of appeal also left the door open to reapply to Mr. McKelvey if a complex issue of law arose in the process.

You can read the full decision of this Court of Appeal case here: Iarnród Éireann/Irish Rail and Barry McKelvey.