Employees making claims to employment law forums are currently facing considerable delays before their claims are heard.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal (the “EAT”), which predominantly deals with unfair dismissal claims, has advised that, from the date of receipt of the claim form, unfair dismissal claims are taking approximately 72 weeks to be heard in Dublin. Unfair dismissal claims are taking approximately 50- 70 weeks throughout the rest of the country. In addition, claims made under the Redundancy Payments legislation to the EAT are currently taking approximately 48 weeks to be heard.

Complaints made to Rights Commissioners are also experiencing delays of approximately six months. We understand that these delays are currently being addressed by the Rights Commissioner Service.

The Equality Tribunal has recently advised that employment equality related complaints submitted to the Tribunal are taking approximately two years to be heard by an Equality Officer. If both parties agree to mediation they may receive an earlier date for a mediation hearing.

The impact of these waiting periods is that employers are now facing the difficulty of defending claims taken by employees concerning matters which took place some considerable time before the claim comes on for hearing. For this reason, more than ever, it is important that employers keep detailed records and statements which relate to the facts of any potential claim or any other contentious matters, with a view to being in a position to defend any claim taken against them in the future.

The delays also have a downside for employees in that they have to wait an extensive time period before they have any prospect of being compensated or being awarded re-instatement or re-engagement as a consequence of their dismissal; and they may well have mitigated their loss by securing another job before their claim is dealt with as the Unfair Dismissals Acts only provide for compensation based on an employee’s loss of earnings.

In respect of claims made before the EAT, prospective claimant employees and employers should bear in mind that most claims before the EAT are initially fixed for a half day only. If the claim is not dealt with in the half day allocated, the hearing may be fixed to resume at a later date, which owing to the delays, and the fact that the claim is dealt with by the same division of the Tribunal, may not be for several months.

A range of proposals are currently under consideration to deal with the delays including for example, the amalgamation of the LRC with NERA and designating certain Rights Commissioners to deal solely with payment of wages claims. For claimant employees and employers, one beneficial way of encouraging an early settlement of claims and for dealing with them, by way of mediation or arbitration, may be the introduction of Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms in claims taken before the EAT.

Irrespective of the solutions which may be found to deal with the problem of the current delays, the current situation should not be allowed to continue as it prejudices both employers and employees in processing their claims before employment fora.