2016 – A new year and a new employment claims system in Ireland

2015 brought a number of changes to the Irish employment law landscape. The most significant change was the introduction of the Workplace Relations Act 2015 (the “Act”).

A new system

The introduction of the Act means that employment claims lodged after 1 October 2015 will be dealt with under a new, two-tiered system.

In the first instance, claims will be heard in private by a single adjudication officer (the “AO”). This is in contrast to the panel of three adjudicators present at previous Employment Appeals Tribunal hearings. Under the new system, the Labour Court (the “LC”) will hear all appeals and appeal hearings will be held in public.

All claims must be submitted to the Workplace Relations Commission (the “WRC”), the body responsible for the new system, within six months of the alleged contravention of the legislation. If a complaint is not submitted within the time limit, an extension of up to 12 months may be granted by an AO, where reasonable cause for the delay has been demonstrated.

WRC guidelines

The WRC recently published guidelines on how employment law hearings will run before the AO and the LC. For example, on receipt of an unfair dismissal claim, the WRC will request a statement from the employer setting out its defence within 21 days. Compliance with the timelines is crucial, as an AO may draw inferences where relevant information is not presented to the WRC in a timely manner.

The WRC aims to schedule hearings within six to eight weeks of the referral of the complaint. After the hearing, a written decision will issue within 28 working days or as soon as practicable and decisions will be published on the WRC’s website, but all parties and witnesses names will be anonymised.

Changes to the accrual of annual leave

Under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 (the “OWTA”), employees did not accrue annual leave while absent from work on sick leave. However, the Act, amended the OWTA to bring Irish law into line with European law.

The OWTA now provides that, for the purposes of calculating an employee’s statutory annual leave entitlement, a day that an employee is absent from work due to certified illness is treated the same as a day when the employee is in work. In addition, employees who are on long-term certified sick leave are now permitted to carry over accrued but untaken statutory annual leave for a period of 15 months after the leave year in question.

Paternity Leave

From September 2016, fathers in Ireland will be entitled to take paternity leave on the birth of their child. This leave will be confined to two weeks and the father will be entitled to receive state benefit at the same rate as statutory maternity leave.

Conclusion

The legislative changes in the last quarter of 2015 means that 2016 promises to be an interesting year from an employment law perspective and only time will tell how effective the new system for dealing with employment law complaints will be.