Changes to Adjudication in Workplace Relations Commission (WRC)

Following a recent Supreme Court decision, adjudication hearings in the WRC may now be held in public and must enable oaths to be administered during hearings, so that those giving evidence under oath can be punished should that evidence be false.

Zalewski v. Adjudication Officer and the Workplace Relations Commission, Ireland, and the Attorney General

In the Zalewski case, the WRC’s adjudication process was held to be equivalent to the administration of justice pursuant to Article 37 of the Constitution. This meant that the court dismissed some of the Plaintiff’s challenges, but it also had the effect of determining that certain requirements must be in place in all adjudications so that the administration of justice is in line with the Constitution.

1.Hearings May Be Public

The first requirement is that adjudications should not be held in private as a rule. They may be held in public. Prior to this, the decisions of the WRC adjudicators were published anonymously on the WRC website. Future public hearings will mean that the parties’ names will be published on the WRC site and available to search.

2. Evidence on Oath

Mr Justice O’Donnell of the Supreme Court was critical of the lack of evidence being made on oath saying “”It should be said that the significance of evidence on oath is not because of any importance attached to the procedure itself, but because it triggers the power to punish for false evidence, and thus provides an incentive to truthful testimony”.

Implications

The government will now need to pass legislation giving effect to the decision of the Supreme Court.

This legislation will include the ability for evidence to be provided on oath and the power to prosecute for perjury. It will also include general permissions for adjudication hearings to be heard in public as well as rules for when hearings must be private.

Naturally employers will be concerned about the reputational damage that can occur where they are embroiled in public disputes with employees. Similarly, employees may not wish to publicly examine their employment relationship for any interested party to watch.

It remains to be seen whether this will lead to more settlements prior to adjudication but in the immediate future it is expected that several adjudications will be adjourned until the new rules are in place.

Should you have any queries relating to employment law please contact Conor White or Brendan Dillon here at 01 296 0666.