Adjudication of employment rights disputes and complaints
Under the Workplace Relations Act 2015, the adjudication service operates as part of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
Adjudication officers are independent in their decision making as they adjudicate on complaints. They investigate disputes, grievances and claims that individuals or small groups of workers make under employment legislation including 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.
Disputes during COVID-19
You can get information about the procedures for workplace disputes during COVID-19.
Following a Supreme Court judgment, the law covering certain WRC procedures has been updated (see 'WRC procedural changes' below). .
Who can refer a complaint for adjudication?
You can refer 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 a person who is named in the relevant employment law as being entitled to present a complaint or refer a dispute.
You should tell your employer before you make to the WRC. You should try to resolve the matter direcly with your employer before applying to the WRC.
You make your complaint to the Director General of the WRC initially (see ‘How to refer a dispute or make a complaint’ below). The Director General will either:
- Refer it to a mediation officer if the complaint can be resolved through mediation and neither party objects, or
- Refer it to an adjudicator if either party objects to it being dealt with through mediation or if the mediation is unsuccessful
How to refer a dispute or make a complaint
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.
You must make you complaint using the WRC's online complaint form.
How does adjudication work?
If the complaint is not dealt with through mediation or if the mediation is not successful, it is referred to an adjudication officer. The adjudication officer generally conducts an inquiry.
The Director General 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).
The inquiry stage
At the inquiry both parties have an opportunity to be heard and present any relevant evidence. The hearings are no longer held in private (see ‘WRC procedural changes’ below). 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
- In the case of a complainant who is aged under 18 a parent or guardian (as well as one of the people already listed)
- Any other person with the permission of the adjudication officer
The WRC have information about what happens at an adjudication hearing.
The adjudication officer makes a decision in accordance with the relevant law and the decision is given to the parties in writing. At this stage, either party may appeal this decision – see below.
Decisions by adjudication officers will be published and in most cases will include the names of the parties (see ‘WRC procedural changes’ below).
WRC procedural changes
Following a Supreme Court judgment, the law covering certain WRC procedures has been updated, as follows:
- Hearings are 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
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, 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 calculated in accordance with 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 to pay compensation is committing an offence, unless they can show they were unable to comply due to financial circumstances.
Appealing an adjudicator's decision
A decision of an adjudicator may be appealed to the Labour Court within 42 days. This time limit can be extended if the Labour Court is satisfied that there were exceptional circumstances causing the delay.
For more information on your employment rights contact the Workplace Relations Commission's Information and Customer Services - see 'Where to apply' below.
Where to apply