Workplace Relations Commission

09 July 2019

Sometimes, it might be hard to resolve problems between employers and their employees. They can lead to awkward, uncomfortable, and even unprofessional situations.

To reach mutual outcomes, these complaints can be discussed by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). This independent resolution service allows employers to resolve matters–without ruining employment relations.

However, you need to follow best practices in your own internal processes to ensure you can present a credible defence at any WRC hearings. If you don't have appropriate disciplinary and grievance procedures in place, you could end up paying compensation and facing business disruption.

In this guide, we'll look at what the Workplace Relations Commission is, what resolution methods are used, and how to manage claims raised against employers.

What is the Workplace Relations Commission?

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) is a state body that focuses on promoting good employment relations between independent parties.

The core functions of the WRC are the:

  • Inspection of employment law compliance by employers.
  • Provision of information on employment law to employers and employees.
  • Provision of mediation, conciliation and advisory services

Most complaints the WRC deals with revolve around employment disputes. They have the power to conduct a workplace inspection–announced and unannounced. And can also issue fines and instigate legal proceedings.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) is used to make decision for problems between employers and their staff.

Ireland's laws on the Workplace Relations Commission

The Workplace Relation Act was introduced to Irish employment law in 2015. It provided a means to address and resolve employment matters between staff and their employer.

The act allowed workers to raise all kinds of claims. Here, the resolution they sought went beyond the remit of organisations. But the act isn’t solely beneficial for workers. It also allows employers to deal with complaints subjectively, reasonably, and with very little legal costs.

What kind of claims are raised to the Workplace Relations Commission?

The WRC uses mediation officers and adjudicators to help manage industrial disputes and grievance claims. Some of the most common complaints raised to the WRC include:

The WRC use mediation officers and adjudicators to help manage industrial disputes and grievance claims.

What is the purpose of the Workplace Relations Commission?

The purpose of the WRC involves more than just dealing with complaints and grievances.

The main function of the WRC is to:

  • Help improve and maintain good working relations.
  • Comply with employment laws and code of practices.
  • Conduct research, investigations, and data requested by the Joint Labour Committee and Joint Industrial Councils.
  • Provide information to the public regarding verdicts.

One of the main functions of the WRC is to help improve and maintain good working relations.

What methods are used by the Workplace Relations Commission?

The WRC uses a range of alternative dispute resolutions which help seek fair outcomes for employment claims. Depending on the claim, the WRC may choose to use:

Advisory Service

Advisory services provide help and guidance on industrial relations in the workplace. They offer advisory services to employers, employees, and representatives. Representatives can provide assistance or support from solicitors, trade unions reps, and even fellow colleagues.

Some of its main methods include grievance resolution, communications advice, and structural change to the workplace.

Advisory services have been established based on legal codes of practices. For example:

  • Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures.
  • Procedures for Addressing Bullying in the Workplace.
  • Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect.

Mediation Service

Mediation services are one of the most encouraged dispute resolutions used by the WRC. They encourage mediation as it allows disputes to avoid going through a formal adjudication hearing or inspection.

When a complaint is raised, a mediation officer helps establish a suitable early resolution. If both parties agree, then a workplace mediation conference is held. This is normally done via phone call, but it can be done in person.

If an agreement is met during workplace mediation, it becomes binding and enforceable by the Courts.

Conciliation Service

Conciliation services are often used by the WRC. They help organisations and workers reach resolutions which they couldn't reach alone. An Industrial Relations Officer will aim to negotiate an agreement for the two parties.

A majority of claims which go through either a mediation or conciliation service. However, if a resolution isn't met, the dispute could be referred to the Labour Court. In these conciliation hearings, both parties are also prohibited from disclosing any information shared during this time.

Adjudication Service

Adjudication services look into disputes, grievances, and complaints that involve individuals or small groups of workers.

When an adjudicator takes on a claim, they take full charge of the whole investigation. They are independent in reaching a final decision and have access to a wide range of functions under Irish employment law.

After a Supreme Court judgement, all laws which involve WRC practices have been updated in 2021. This means hearing procedures, investigations, and resolution methods all run through these new regulations.

Inspection Service

Inspection services keep on top of employment conditions, helping to ensure compliance with employment laws. They are also in charge of enforcement of breaches.

Inspection officers carry out inspections to collect information in relation to employment law. For example, they might check legal compliance in meeting health & safety standards.

The WRC uses a range of alternative dispute resolutions to help seek fair outcomes for employment claims.

How to manage claims raised to the Workplace Relations Commission

Complaints and issues are inevitable during work. They can rise from the smallest of misunderstandings; and can easily escalate into serious matters.

Employers need to efficiently manage complaints before such grievance claims are raised to legal courts. For example, to avoid workplace discrimination, employers need to adhere to equal status and opportunities outlined under the Employment Equality Act 2008.

Here are things to consider when managing claims to the Workplace Relations Commission:

Deal with the matter internally

If an employee raises an issue to you during work, you should primarily try to deal with it internally.

In some cases, issues can be dealt with through an informal and voluntary process. Like through individual discussions, group meetings, or even by your company's grievance procedure.

By dealing with grievances internally, you can avoid lengthy time away from work or minimise disruptions to the business. Employees will also feel like their concerns will be heard and rectified.

Raise the complaint formally

If matters cannot be resolved internally or the employee doesn't agree with the outcome, they will most likely raise the complaint formally.

Here, they will have escalated their grievance to the WRC via their online complaints form. Depending on what the complaint entails, they may initiate 'pre-complaint' procedures beforehand. For example, they could request all relevant witnesses' accounts have been collected before any hearing is held.

The complaint needs to be raised within six months from when the incident took place. However, this time limit can be delayed if there is reasonable belief to do so.

Choose a dispute resolution service

Employment disputes can go through any form of dispute resolution service. But the most commonly used services are workplace mediation or adjudication.

If both you and the employee agree to mediation, then the case will be assigned to a mediation officer. They will be in charge of all disputes methods and will help reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Most mediation services are conducted through phone and video calls or by in-person meetings.

If you both decide on adjudication, the system is slightly different. The complaint will be discussed through a public hearing (except in certain circumstances). In the end, an adjudicating officer will decide on the outcome and make a formal judgement.

Gather information, evidence, and accounts

Before any hearing takes place, both parties will be asked to gather all information, evidence, and accounts relevant to the case.

You should offer all this data to the adjudicating officer no more than 15 days before the hearing. Send them as early as possible so you have sufficient time to make amendments or add additional materials.

Some common information includes:

  • Emails and letters.
  • Meetings from discussions.
  • Employment contracts, handbooks, and policies.
  • Video and audio recordings.

The adjudicating officer may allow materials to be presented after the 15-day period. However, any requests for this can be denied without question.

Attend the hearing

During the time of the hearing, each party is given the opportunity to present their case to the Workplace Relations Commission board.

The board is made up of one chairperson and eight representative members. Within a hearing, the members stand in the following manner:

  • Two members who stand for the employer.
  • Two members who stand for the employee.
  • One member who seeks to promote equality in the workplace.
  • Three members who bring experience and expertise in relation to workplace relations, dispute resolutions, and employment law.

Employees are allowed to attend hearings with representatives, like trade unions reps or fellow colleagues.

Wait for the final verdict

The adjudication or mediation officer will have the ending say for the hearing verdict. They will decide their answer in accordance with employment legislation and overall circumstances.

Once reached, all verdicts are published and made accessible to the public. It's at this point where outcomes are actioned, i.e., like paying penalties or reinstating jobs.

The adjudication or mediation officer will have the ending say for the hearing verdict.

Can you appeal decisions made by the Workplace Relations Commission?

In some cases, a losing party may want to appeal the final verdict passed through a hearing.

The Labour Court manages all appeal claims raised by employees and businesses. This is usually done through initiating a new court hearing and with a public audience. Appeals need to be raised within 42 days from when the final verdict was passed.

The final decisions which the Labour Court decides can be turned over by a Supreme Court judgement. But this can only be done through the right legal frame.

Hearings are public and verdicts are published in full (unless certain situations occur).

In extreme cases, these decisions may also be appealed to the High Court. But they will only reach this far if there are no legal objections.

Get expert guidance on the Workplace Relations Commission with Peninsula

If you are managing a workplace dispute, do your best to resolve it within your business. Allow employees to express their complaint this way, so both parties can avoid losing time, money, and communications in legal court.

If not, you could be summoned to conciliation or mediation hearings, you could face compensation fees, business disruption, and reputational damages.

Peninsula offers expert advice on dealing with the Workplace Relations Commission. Our team offers a 24/7 HR advice service which is available 365 days a year; with multi-lingual assistance and fully trained counsellors ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants. Call 0800 028 2420

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