Adverse Publicity in Employment Cases-Employees, Don’t Make This Mistake

Are you an employee who is thinking about bringing a claim against your employer?

Or maybe you have already brought a claim?

I meet employees frequently and they may come to me before, during, or after a dispute with their employer.

And I see them making many mistakes.

These mistakes can range from bringing the wrong claim to suing the wrong entity as employer to missing the time limit to bring the claim that is misconceived or badly founded from the outset.

One mistake I frequently encounter, though, is the employee’s insistence that the employer will probably settle or roll over by reason of his fear of the ‘adverse publicity’ which the case is bound to generate.

This is a serious mistake because the employee places far too much importance on the threat of ‘bad publicity’.

It is an understandable mistake to make because the employee has a problem that has caused her great anxiety and stress and it has been a large part of her every day life for a considerable amount of time.

And now she is going to finally take action and remedy the wrong done to her.

But the wider world at large has their own individual, personal problems.

They may be big or small ranging from paying the mortgage to buying food or other daily essentials to avoiding the sack to dodging redundancy to the health and welfare of their loved ones to the kids getting on satisfactorily in school to getting good exam results.

And so on.

The list goes on and on. Some people would just call it ‘life’.

These problems may understandably detract from them noticing whether you were treated unlawfully in work or not, and how your claim goes at the WRC.

Quite frankly, other people have their own issues and may not have too much time for your case against your employer. It may not even register on their radar.

Or if it does it is soon forgotten. Tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapper.

For this reason your employer may not have as much to fear on the publicity front as you would expect.

Workplace Relations Commission Claims are Private

Virtually all work related claims have to first be brought to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). However, the Workplace Relations Act at section 41 (13) states:

(13) Proceedings under this section before an adjudication officer shall be conducted otherwise than in public.

This means (virtually) all claims are held in private, not public.

Thus, the chances of a tremendous amount of bad publicity arising from the case are minimised.

And to make matters worse from a publicity perspective all decisions of the Workplace Relations Commission when published on their website are anonymised-that is, the identity of the parties is not disclosed and the decisions will have titles like ‘A Worker Versus a Retail Company’ or other nondescript, anonymous titles.

Conclusion

If you bring an employment related claim against your employer you need to weigh up carefully the pros and cons of your case, the potential outcomes, and the cost. These are the factors that you should place most emphasis on when arriving at a decision.

If you lose your case and you appeal to the Labour Court your case will be held ‘in public’ and there may be greater scope to wave the ‘adverse publicity’ stick as a weapon against your employer.

But in looking at your options in a WRC claim my advice is not to overegg the pudding in relation to idea that the employer will be fearful of the tremendous amount of bad publicity surrounding your case.

Because the reality is quite different, apart from some exceptional cases which hit the headlines for obvious reasons unique to that particular case.

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.

How to Make an Employment Related Claim

unfair dismissal

Had enough?

Are you at breaking point?

Are you considering bringing a claim against your employer?

Are you unsure of the procedure and what to do?

Are you worried about legal costs?

By the end of this piece, I hope you will have a well informed grasp of what’s involved and what you need to consider.

The 1st thing you must do

Before deciding to bring a claim against your employer, there is one thing you must do.

You must raise your issue internally in your workplace. This will involve using the grievance procedure in use in your employment.

Because when you go to a Rights Commissioner hearing or an Employment Appeals Tribunal or any other venue, including Court, it will help your case enormously that you have tried to sort out the problem in the workplace.

You simply must give the employer the opportunity to put right what you say is wrong. Even if he doesn’t, and you know he won’t, it is strongly advisable to make your best efforts to sort out the problem.

Because later, if you do bring a claim, you will appear to have been the reasonable one and mainly concerned with having the difficulty sorted out, not making a claim.

Where can you bring your claim?

There are three types of venue to bring a claim:

  1. the specialist employment related forums such as the Rights Commissioner Service and the Employment Appeals Tribunal (this is set to change in October, 2015 with the Workplace Relations Act coming into law)
  2. Civil Court, for example the District Court, Circuit Court or High Court
  3. the Equality Tribunal.

The EAT and Rights Commissioner service can hear most employment related claims, and, for many claims you have a choice of which one to use.

The Rights Commissioner service is the bottom rung of the ladder and is probably the least intimidating place to bring a claim. One Rights Commissioner sitting alone at the head of a table hears the complaint with the parties sitting both sides of the table to present their case.

This service is designed to be informal and not at all intimidating.

The EAT hearing is a bit more formal with 3 people sitting to hear the complaint. The Chairperson will be a barrister or solicitor appointed to the Tribunal by Government; there will also be an employer representative from a body such as IBEC, and an employee representative from a trade union.

Civil Courts might be chosen in certain circumstances:

  • where you are bring a case for breach of contract or wrongful dismissal
  • where your claim is for a non physical personal injury such as stress (you would have brought this the Injuries Board in the first place but they tend not to deal with non physical injury cases and simply authorise you to bring your claim in Court by way of legal proceedings)
  • gender discrimination claims can go straight to the Circuit Court

The Equality Tribunal deals with all forms of discrimination in the workplace and they will be your 1st port of call if you are claiming that you have suffered discrimination in your job. Bear in mind that your discrimination must be on one of 9 grounds.

The 9 grounds are

  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • Family status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race/colour/nationality/ethnic or national origins
  • Membership of the travelling community.

The procedure and the 1 form you will need

The vast majority of employment related claims will start by the filling out of the Workplace Relations Complaint Form. You can access this form here on the Workplace Relations website.

The form can be filled in and submitted online. It will ask you for your details, the details of your employer, your complaint, what legislation you are claiming under and some other relevant details.

You should receive an acknowledgment of receipt of your complaint immediately once you have submitted the form. However you could be waiting 12-18 months for a hearing date.

It’s during this time that some efforts may be made to settle the dispute. This can occur by the Workplace Relations Early Resolutions service contacting the parties or by the parties themselves, perhaps through their solicitors, trying to settle the problem.

How much will it cost?

When you go to Court, the winner takes all.

By this I mean that if you win your case, the other side will almost certainly be ordered to pay your costs (as well as their own).

That’s not the case in employment cases at the EAT or Rights Commissioner service-each side pays their own costs.

So, how much will you have to pay? Well, it depends on how much time goes into preparing your case, how much time is spent at the hearing, whether counsel is instructed, and so on.

You should discuss this aspect of your case at the outset with your solicitor. He should be able to give you a good idea, but it will only be an estimate.

The difficulty in giving you exact figures lies the the huge difference between cases. For example, a half hour hearing with a Rights Commissioner over a very straightforward issue compared to a complex case involving counsel before the Employment Appeals Tribunal over a number of days will incur wildly different costs.

Enforcing decisions-what happens next?

If you are successful and win a positive decision, then the employer has 6 weeks within which to implement it. If he fails to do so you can make a complaint to another body in order to have your decision enforced.

A Rights Commissioner decision can be referred to the Labour Court for confirmation of the original decision. Once the Labour Court confirms it you can go to the Circuit Court for a Court Order which can be enforced against the employer.

An EAT decision can also be enforced through the Circuit Court with an order for payment being made.

How to decide what to do next

Deciding to bring a claim is a big decision.

It’s not easy, and the consequences of bringing one and losing, or winning, can be enormous.

You don’t have to suffer in silence though, or say nothing and stand idly by if your rights are being ignored or trampled upon. But you do have to be sure that you have a good chance of success and you do need to know whether there is, in fact, a breach of your rights.

Weigh up the pros and cons carefully. Don’t let your heart rule your head.

I know it’s difficult for you to be dispassionate about your problem, especially if going to work every day is a heavy chore. But you do need to have a good idea of the chances of success.

Friends and family mean well and don’t want to see you suffer.

So, before you do anything, get the best professional advice you can to give you a voice and ensure that your employment rights are upheld.

 

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The 6 Principal Causes of Action in Employment Related Claims

employment-appeals-tribuna

There is a huge number of ways for an employee to bring a claim against the employer. But the Employment Appeals Tribunal report for 2012 tells us the top 6 categories of claim.

This piece will look at those 6 categories and give you some pointers to reduce the chances of a successful claim against you.

Before we look at the top sources of pain for employers do note that the average payout for a successful claim in 2012 was €18,519.84 so taking steps to reduce the chances of successful claims is time and money well spent.

The 6 causes of action of cases brought to the Employment Appeals Tribunal in 2012 were:

1.      Unfair dismissal.

This would also include constructive dismissal-where the employee quits because of the “intolerable conduct/behaviour” of the employer.

Constructive dismissal sees the burden of proof shifting to the employee and it can be a difficult (but not impossible) burden to discharge.

Unfair dismissal on the other hand sees the burden of proof falling on the employer to show that the dismissal was fair and reasonable and, most importantly, fair procedures were followed. There are also 8 grounds on which a dismissal is deemed to be automatically unfair.

Read more about unfair dismissal here.

 

2.      Redundancy

“Sham redundancy” or unfair selection for redundancy would be the principal causes of claims under the redundancy heading.

You can learn more about redundancy in Ireland here.

 

3.      Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment

The notice period for termination of the employment contract should be in the contract itself. If it is not then any notice period must be “reasonable” and in accordance with the minimum notice periods set out in the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act, 1973.

 

4.      Payment of Wages Act, 1991

Payment of Wages claims tend to fall into a number of categories including:

  • Non payment of wages
  • Unlawful deductions from wages
  • Non payment of minimum wage rates.

You can learn more about the payment of wages legislation here.

 

5.      Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997

Claims under this heading would tend to be for non payment of holiday entitlements, failure to allow proper rest breaks, failure to give the employee their public holiday entitlements, and failure to keep proper records.

You can learn more about organisation of working time act claims here.

 

6.      Terms of Employment (Information) Acts

This claim, and it is a common one, is because of the failure of the employer to give the employee a written statement of certain terms and conditions of employment within 2 months of commencing employment.

When the relationship breaks down and there is a claim made against employer, this is also a common one to throw into the mix.

The employer can have a month’s salary awarded against him/her for failure to give a statement to an employee. There is really no excuse for this and it is such an easy to avoid claim that it is a shame to see employers wasting money paying out for this omission.

You can learn more about how to draft an employment contract here.

 

So, there you have it. If you are an employer and you pay particular attention to these 6 areas, you will reduce the chances of any claim being brought against you.

And even if such a claim is brought, you will have increased your chances of a successful defence greatly by taking some sensible precautions in the 6 areas outlined above.

7 Simple Steps For Employers to Avoid Costly Employment Law Claims from Employees

employment-tribunals-ireland

It’s an easy mistake to make.

If you are an employer you are in danger of leaving yourself wide open to expensive claims by your employees if you fail to follow some basic but essential steps in your employment relationship with your employees.

In addition to settling successful claims brought by employees you also run the risk of fines and other sanctions from the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA) which has a dedicated unit, the Prosecution Services Unit, which can refer cases to the Chief State Solicitors Office for prosecution.

There is a wide body of employment legislation in force in Ireland which can be confusing for many employers.

In addition some industries have their own industry specific agreements called registered employment agreements (REA) and minimum wage rates. It is worth noting that these registered employment agreements are binding on all parties once registered with the Labour Court.

UPDATE May 2013

The Supreme Court, in May 2013, ruled that registered employment agreements are unconstitutional. You will find more updated information about registered employment agreements and employment regulation orders here.

Minimum requirements in employment law

1. Written statement of certain terms and conditions of employment

This statement must be given to the employee within two months of commencing employment.

The relevant act is the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 which sets out the basic information that an employee is entitled to be given in writing about their contract of employment. You need to be careful that you provide the additional information set out in the revised act, which is

( fa ) a reference to any registered employment agreement or employment regulation order which applies to the employee and confirmation of where the employee may obtain a copy of such agreement or order, ]

F6 [ (g) the rate or method of calculation of the employee ’ s remuneration and the pay reference period for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage Act, 2000,

( ga ) that the employee may, under section 23 of the National Minimum Wage Act, 2000, request from the employer a written statement of the employee ’ s average hourly rate of pay for any pay reference period as provided in that section,

You need to be aware of statutory instrument S.I. No. 49/1998 – Terms of Employment (Additional Information) Order, 1998, which provides that you must give the employee a statement in writing containing particulars of the times and duration of the rest periods and breaks referred to in sections 11, 12 and 13 of the Act (The Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997.)

2. Written statement of pay

The Payment of Wages Act, 1991 obliges the employer to give a written statement of wages and deductions at the time of payment. Learn more about payment of wages here.

3. The minimum wage

There are exceptions to the minimum wage in Ireland of €8.65 per hour but most adults will be entitled to it; in addition certain industries have their own higher minimum wage. Learn more about minimum wage rates.

4. Maximum hours worked

Employers must keep records of hours worked by employees to ensure compliance with the maximum working week average of  48 hours which may be calculated over a 4, 6 or 12 month period depending on the industry. Learn more about working time and rest breaks here.

5. Working time and breaks

The breaks to which employees are entitled are set out in the Organization of Working Time Act, 1997. Currently break entitlements are 15 minutes per four and a half hours work and a 30 minute break for six hours worked.

6. Holiday entitlements

Holiday entitlements are also covered in the Organization of Working Time Act, 1997. In general full time workers are entitled to four  paid weeks holidays per year with part timers being entitled to similar holidays on a pro rata basis depending on hours worked which equates to one third of a week per month worked. (Learn more about how to calculate holiday entitlements.)

7. Minimum notice of termination of employment

The minimum notice periods are set out in the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts 1973 to 2001 and depend on the length of service with the minimum regardless of service being 1 week.

Conclusion

Employers can save themselves the considerable costs in money and time involved in defending or otherwise dealing with claims by their employees by some prudent management and housekeeping.

The list above is not exhaustive, but if you took care of those 7 areas you would be in good shape as an employer.

Doing business nowadays can be a worrying enough activity without inviting needless trouble on yourself for the want of a straightforward contract of employment and/or letter of offer and/or statement of your employees’ terms and conditions.

At a minimum you should carry out an audit of your

  • Contracts of employment
  • Staff handbooks
  • Disciplinary and grievance procedures
  • All workplace policy documents.

If you don’t have any of the above, you are asking for trouble, especially when there is a dispute or a NERA inspection.