One of the key principles in any effective legal system is certainty, which is why precise statutory time limits are imposed on claimants for filing of statutory employment claims.
The usual limitation period for statutory employment claims in Ireland is 6 months. However, this can be extended by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or the Labour Court on appeal by a further 6 months where “reasonable cause” can be shown by the employee. Irish case law requires that the reason given by the person seeking more time must both explain the delay and afford a justifiable excuse for the delay. Or, to quote the Labour Court, the explanation for the delay “must make sense, be agreeable to reason and not be irrational or absurd”.
Over the years the relevant Irish institutions (now the WRC and Labour Court) have extended time limits in various situations, for example, where illness intervened to prevent the complaint being made in time. However, time extensions have been refused in many other situations and unsuccessful grounds include various examples such as; where the employees wife had been ill from cancer; where the employee did not know there was a six-month time limit involved; where the employee did not know where to lodge the claim; where the employee was “very busy” or; where the claimant wanted to avoid a stressful situation on the advice of her GP.
A recent Irish case (ADJ-00001568) refused to facilitate an extension of time where it was claimed that a trainee solicitor had forgotten to file the claim on time through “inadvertence”.
In the UK, a recent employment tribunal decision refused to extend the time limit for lodging an appeal where it was filed one hour late, at 5pm (rather than before the 4pm deadline) on the relevant day. The appellant employee in that case asserted that his depression and anxiety resulted in a “blind panic” which caused the delay. However, he failed to submit any expert evidence to support his assertion that his disability had impacted his decision making and offered only generalised internet based material as evidence (instead of specific medical evidence). The UK Tribunal refused to extend the time limit, and held that the employee had left himself insufficient time to submit all the necessary papers electronically and that, effectively, he could blame no one or nothing but himself (see J v K and another UK EAT 0661/16, 10 May 2017).
The Irish Labour Court has also in recent times refused to allow a claim to proceed where it was one day over the time limit.
To get back to ‘certainty’ as a key principle in a legal system, a day or an hour too late is still too late! However, every case is situation specific and will turn on its own individual facts. As a good starting point, employees and their advisors should never run the risk of filing a statutory claim outside of the time limit as the burden of proof will be on them to show reasonable cause and the employer is, rightly, likely to strongly oppose that in most cases.