The new Workplace Relations Act 2015 – What it means for your business
The long awaited Workplace Relations Act 2015 came into force on October 1st and its implementation will have far reaching consequences for your business. When it was initially proposed, it was lauded by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation as capable of creating landmark reform that would help to simplify and streamline workplace disputes, procedures and bodies.
So now that it has finally commenced, it is timely to explain the core changes, how they will affect your business and what concerns, if any, are likely to arise for employers.
One body for hearings and one body for appeals
The major change is the introduction of a single forum for employment disputes, which replaces the current complicated system. The previous structure included five different bodies to which an employment claim could be brought, namely the Labour Relations Commission; the Equality Tribunal; a Rights Commissioner; the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT); or the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA).
From the 1st of October, there will one body to hear disputes and one body for appeals. All employment disputes will be referred to an Adjudication Officer in the newly established Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) the forum for hearing all complaints. One single appeal body – namely the revamped Labour Court, will deal with all appeals from the WRC made within 42 days and will be heard in public, unlike the WRC. Decisions of the Labour Court can then be appealed to the High Court, but only on a point of law, so there will be no full rehearing of the case.
Set time limits
The limitations period for all claims under employment or equality legislation, will now need to be brought to the WRC within six months- this can be extended to 12 months where “reasonable cause” can be shown for missing the initial deadline.
Higher levels of compliance requirements for employers
Some of the most far reaching and serious changes for business under the new Act, is the introduction of compliance notices and fixed payment notices (on the spot fines) issued by WRC inspectors. Inspectors have the power to enter at all reasonable times (and if necessary by the use of ‘reasonable force’) any place of work or any business premises which they believe are used as a place of employment or which are being used to hold employment documents connected with such employment. It is therefore crucial for employers to be both aware of these new onerous measures and understand the very serious consequences for failing to comply with specific employment legislation, as outlined below.
- Compliance Notice
A compliance notice, will be issued by WRC inspectors to an employer following a search of their business premises. This compliance notice will stipulate to the employer they must cease an action; which in the inspectors view, contravenes either the Maternity Protection Act; Payment of Wages Act; Organisation of Working Time Act; Carer’s Leave Act; or Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act.
These notices can be appealed to the Labour Court by the employer, but non-compliance has serious consequences for the employer. The offence is on indictment, meaning it can carry a fine of up to €50,000 or imprisonment up to 3 years.
- On the Spot Fines
Officially called ‘fixed payment notices’, these on the spot fines can be up to €2,000. They are also issued by WRC inspectors, when they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect an employer has breached either the National Minimum Wage Act; Protection of Employment Act or Payment of Wages Act.
The employer in this instance, has 42 days to pay this fine or face prosecution. There is no right of appeal, therefore the employer is left with little choice but to pay the fine as a type of plea bargain or try to defend the matter at prosecution stage.
As alluded to briefly above, all of the initial WFC hearings before the Adjudication Officer, will be held in private, unlike the Labour Court, where all appeals will be heard in public (except for industrial relations disputes). This reform has been a bone of contention for many industry groups and none more so than The Law Society of Ireland.
The Law Society argues that private hearings may be open to constitutional challenge, on the grounds that justice should be administered in public and is a fundamental constitutional principle. The premise is that public hearings, allow the media to report on such cases, which in turn helps employees become more aware of their employment and equality rights, while simultaneously acting as a deterrent for employers to avoid bad press and reputational damage. However, it can be also argued that the level of privacy the new WRC regime affords employers will be equally welcomed by most employees. Employment disputes can be tasking and difficult for both parties and this new privacy measure, may assist in alleviating some of the stresses associated with such hearings.
Overall, this is a seismic but welcome piece of legislation that has both pros and cons for employers and employees alike. The above piece is not an exhaustive list, but merely highlights some of the major changes employers need to know. The reforms will indeed help to streamline the manner in which claims are being brought and heard. It doesn’t however, negate the fact that employees will still need to be diligent in completing the WRC forms to ensure they make the correct claims under the correct Acts. While employers will be required to continue to be diligent and properly prepare their defence of such claims which are capable of arising from the myriad of employment and equality legislation.
Furthermore the introduction of compliance notices and fixed payment notices have raised the compliance bar for employers and their HR teams beyond unprecedented levels; thereby, increasing future costs, resources and time to ensure strict adherence. It is therefore advisable for employers to get acquainted and up to speed with this new Act and seek, where necessary, specialist legal advice and support.
If you would like J.O.S Solicitors to assist your business with its HR needs or to simply discuss your options about any piece of employment legislation or HR compliance issue, including more information on the new Workplace Relations Act 2015, then please contact us.
This publication is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice. No liability is accepted by J.O.S Solicitors for any action taken or not taken in reliance on the information set out in this publication. Any and all information is subject to change and professional or legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this publication.