In July we reported that the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) introduced a number of changes while awaiting legislation, following the Supreme Court decision in the case of Zalewski v. Adjudication Officer and The Workplace Relations Commission, Ireland and the Attorney General  IESC 24 (“Zalewski”). Read more here.
The Oireachtas has now enacted the Workplace Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021 (“the Act”). The Act came into effect on the 29th of July 2021.
Changes in the WRC as a result of the Act
Below are some of the changes to procedures and requirements when bringing cases before the WRC, that we can expect as a result of the Act.
- Adjudication Officers may now require a person giving evidence in proceedings to give the evidence on oath or affirmation and administer the oath or affirmation. The Act introduces a penalty that the giving of a false statement shall be an offence. The penalties are;
(i) on summary conviction, to a class B fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both, or,
(ii) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, or both.”.
The WRC has issued guidelines with information for witnesses, and in light of current health guidelines, the party who wishes to swear an oath should provide their own physical or e-version of the text which they wish to refer to in their oath.
- The Act contains a number of amendments to the current legislation to ensure proceedings will be conducted in public. Proceedings will be conducted in public unless an Adjudication Officer determines that, due to the existence of special circumstances the proceedings (or part thereof) proceedings should be conducted otherwise than in public. That applies to all WRC cases apart from disputes under Section 13 of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969. The WRC has issued guidance as to what may constitute “special circumstances”, for example:
- Cases involving a minor.
- Where a party has a disability / medical condition they do not want revealed.
- Cases considered to be sensitive – such as sexual harassment.
- Protected Disclosures.
- Cases that could result in harm to one of the parties if the case is heard in public or parties are named in a decision.
The list is non-exhaustive, and it will remain to be seen how exactly the Adjudication Officers will apply the above. The WRC has stated for example, that neither both parties wanting a case to be heard in private, nor the possible impact of a public hearing on someone’s reputation, are automatic reasons for the matter to be heard in private.
- The publication on the internet of every decision of an Adjudication Officer. An Adjudication Officer may determine that due to the existence of special circumstances that information that would identify the parties should not be published.
- The Act provides for a review within 12 months of the operation of the amendments to any relevant legislation in respect of holding proceedings in public, and publishing decisions in public.
- The Act also introduces some changes to the appointment and revocation of the appointment of Adjudication Officers.
Employers should be aware that the changes apply to cases even if they were lodged with the WRC before the Supreme Court decision and the Act came into place.
About the Author: Emer Murphy, Senior Associate on the Employment Team