Adjudication of employment rights disputes and complaints
If you have a workplace complaint or dispute
If you have a complaint about your employment rights, you should first speak to your employer. If you cannot resolve your complaint informally, you can make a formal complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
Your complaint will be referred to either:
- A mediation officer if the complaint can be resolved through mediation and neither party objects
- An adjudicator if either party objects to it being dealt with through mediation or if the mediation is unsuccessful
As part of the adjudication service, adjudication officers investigate disputes, grievances and claims that individuals or small groups of workers make under employment legislation.
Complaints can be about redundancy, unfair dismissal, minimum notice, minimum wage, hours of work and leave. The WRC can adjudicate on complaints made under the employment legislation listed in Schedule 5 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015.
Following a Supreme Court judgment, the law covering certain WRC procedures has been updated (see 'WRC procedural changes' below).
Who can make a complaint to the WRC?
You can make a complaint to the WRC if you are:
- The person directly affected (that is the ‘direct complainant’)
- A specified person acting on behalf of the direct complainant
A specified person is someone who is named in the relevant employment law as being entitled to present a complaint or refer a dispute, such as a trade union representative.
How to make a complaint
If you cannot resolve your complaint informally with your employer, you can make a formal complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) using its online complaint form.
Depending on your complaint, you may have to take ‘pre-complaint steps’, such as gathering supporting documents and sending them to the WRC as part of the complaint. For example, if you are making a complaint under the National Minimum Wage Act, you need to request a ‘statement of earnings’ from your employer before making your complaint to the WRC.
You must make your complaint to the WRC within 6 months of the date of the alleged breach of the Act. The time limit may be extended by a further 6 months if there was reasonable cause for the delay.
How your complaint is handled
Your complaint can be dealt with by mediation or adjudication.
If both you and your employer agree to mediation, a mediator will help you reach a mutually acceptable agreement. This method often prevents complaints from reaching the stage of a formal court hearing. The mediation can be carried out by phone, video, or face-to-face meetings.
With adjudication, there is a public hearing (except in exceptional circumstances) and an adjudication officer will make a formal judgment. See ‘How does adjudication work?’ below.
How does adjudication work?
If your complaint is not dealt with through mediation, or if the mediation is not successful, it is referred to an independent ‘adjudication officer’. The adjudication officer generally conducts an inquiry.
In some cases, the WRC may decide to deal with the complaint by written submissions only, unless either party objects within 42 days of being informed. You can read about the WRC procedures in the investigation of employment and equality complaints (pdf).
Gathering your evidence
Before the hearing takes place, you must gather all the relevant evidence and documentation to support your case. You must give this evidence to the adjudication officer as soon as possible, and no later than 15 working days before the hearing. You must also give a copy of all your evidence to the other party (for instance, your employer).
Examples of evidence include:
- Emails or letters
- Minutes of meetings
- Contracts of employment or employee handbooks
- Sound recordings
- CCTV footage.
The adjudication officer can decide not to allow you or your employer to introduce documents on the day of the hearing or within 15 workings days of the hearing date.
Attending the hearing
At the hearing, both you and your employer have an opportunity to be heard and present any relevant evidence.
The person who is making the complaint may be represented at the hearing by:
- A trade union official, or an official of a body which represents the interests of employers
- A practising barrister or practising solicitor
- A parent or guardian, as well as one of the people already listed (in the case of a complainant who is aged under 18)
- Any other person with the permission of the adjudication officer
Hearings are now held in public (see ‘WRC procedural changes’ below).
The WRC has information about what happens at an adjudication hearing.
The adjudicator’s decision
The adjudication officer makes a decision in accordance with the relevant law and the decision is given to the you and your employer in writing. At this stage, either party may appeal this decision – see ‘Appealing an adjudicator's decision’ below.
Decisions by adjudication officers will be published, and in most cases, will include the names of the parties involved (see ‘WRC procedural changes’ below).
Appealing an adjudicator's decision
If you are unhappy with the adjudicator’s decision, you can appeal to the Labour Court within 42 days. If you do not appeal the decision within 42 days, it becomes legally binding and can be enforced through the District Court.
How is the adjudicator's decision enforced?
The employer has 56 days to carry out the decision of the adjudication officer. If the employer fails to do so, then the employee, the WRC, the employee’s trade union or excepted body can apply to the District Court for an order directing the employer to do so. An excepted body is a body that represents the interests of a particular group of workers.
In general, the District Court must make the order. If the decision was to reinstate or re-engage the employee, the District Court may substitute an order to pay compensation. The compensation can be up to 104 weeks’ pay, which is calculated using the rules under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977–2015. The District Court may also order interest to be paid.
An employer who fails to comply with an order directing them to pay compensation is committing an offence (unless they can show they were unable to comply due to financial circumstances).
WRC procedural changes
Following a Supreme Court judgment, the law covering certain WRC procedures has been updated, as follows:
- Hearings are now open to the public (except cases where there are ‘special circumstances’)
- Decisions are no longer anonymised on publication
- WRC adjudicators now have statutory powers to administer an oath or affirmation
- Giving false evidence under oath is a crime that can be prosecuted
The changes are effective from 29 July 2021. You can read more in the WRC guidance on Workplace Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021.
The above changes do not apply to:
- Industrial Relations disputes (under section 13 Industrial Relations Act 1969), which will continue to be heard in private
- WRC mediation which continues to be entirely confidential
More information about complaints to the WRC
You can read detailed information about making a complaint to the WRC (pdf). You can also contact the WRC’s Information and Customer Service.