This article is about the Statute of Limitations in relation to claims brought before the Workplace Relations Commission, or the WRC. The WRC, among other things, is a forum which ensures the enforcement of employment rights. Employees with a workplace relations dispute can apply to have their claim heard by the WRC, who will issue a legally binding verdict on whether a breach of employee rights has occurred.
In law, a “statute of limitation” is the time period in which an individual must submit a legal claim after the claim arose. The basis for this in Ireland is the Statute of Limitations Act 1957.
Careful consideration must be given to the Statute of Limitations as it has the power to single-handedly undermine an entire case if not taken within time. The Statute does not automatically dismiss a matter, but rather is used as a defence by the defendant in court to argue that your claim is invalid. As important evidence, witnesses and memories that could be key to their defence are lost or forgotten over time. time limits are placed on claims to ensure proper justice is done. Time limits also ensure that legal certainty is present in transactions, with parties knowing exactly how long their liability can extend for.
If a claim has passed the window for submission set out in the statute, the claim is “statute barred”. As such, in practice cases are often dismissed before going to trial when it can be established that they are statute barred. The Statute of Limitations, however, is not completely rigid. There may be cause for extensions to time limits, which will be elaborated on.
Normal Time Limits
In general, the legislation provides 6 months to file a WRC application. The clock starts running on the 6 months rule at different times depending on the context of the case. These are set out below;
- Pay Disputes: After the statement of pay is received from employer
- Disputes re Hours: From contravention mentioned in complaint
- Terms and Conditions: From the date of termination
- Unfair dismissals: Date of termination
- Minimum notice: Date of termination+ appropriate notice added
- Leave: varied between
- Maternity: Date notice of pregnancy given to employer
- Adoptive: Day of placement or when no placement takes place notice of intention to take leave given to employer
- Paternity: Day after date of dispute
- Parental: Date of occurrence of dispute
- Parent’s: Day after date of occurrence of dispute
- Annual: From date of contravention
- Public holidays: From date of contravention
- Sick Leave: depends on contract of employment about to change with Sick Leave Bill 2022
- Carer’s Leave: From contravention
- Force majeure leave: Date of occurrence of dispute
- Compassionate Leave: Not protected
- Jury service: Date of dispute
- Career break or study leave: not protected
- Discrimination: Date of (most recent) occurrence
- Penalisation: Date of (most recent) occurrence
- Whistle-blowers: Date of contravention
- Protections of young persons: Date of contravention
- Transfer of undertakings: Date of alleged contravention
- Fixed term employee protection: Date of contravention or termination (earlier)
- Part time employee protection: Date of contravention or termination (earlier)
- Agency Work: Date of contravention
Exceptions due to reasonable cause
The Statute of Limitations in the WRC are not as rigid as they might first appear to be. In the case that ‘reasonable cause’ is given by the plaintiff for the application’s delay, an extension of time may be granted up to 12 months total from the relevant start date of that particular claim.
This of course raises the question as to what exactly is ‘reasonable cause’?
In relevant legislation, a test has been set out by the Labour Court in Cementation Skanska v Carroll, DWT 38/2003 in the following extract:
“It is the Court’s view that in considering if reasonable cause exists, it is for the claimant to show that there are reasons which both explain the delay and afford an excuse for the delay. The explanation must be reasonable, that is to say it must make sense, be agreeable to reason and not be irrational or absurd. In the context in which the expression reasonable cause appears in the statute it suggests an objective standard, but it must be applied to the facts and circumstances known to the claimant at the material time. The claimant’s failure to present the claim within the six-month time limit must have been due to the reasonable cause relied upon. Hence there must be a causal link between the circumstances cited and the delay and the claimant should satisfy the Court, as a matter of probability, that had those circumstances not been present he would have initiated the claim in time.”
Under this interpretation the reason(s) given should both explain and excuse the delay. What ticks this box has actually proven to be incredibly arbitrary and case subjective.
Examples of reasonable causes cited include hospitalisation (ADJ 00022052), failure of the Respondent to provide relevant documentation (ADJ-00037223), and lack of knowledge of matters relating to employment (ADJ-00037223).
Varying rulings were given out both in favour and opposed to these reasons, showing the liberal nature of the interpretation of the test.
It is also important to note that the test for ‘reasonable cause’ is a two-stage test. The reason provided for the delay must first not be arbitrary, as described above, but must also have a causal link to the delay. This means there must be a practical connection between the reason given and the delay. For example, a claimant could not argue the delay was caused by hospitalisation if the hospitalisation occurred prior to the time the clock started running.
The Statute of Limitations is an essential part of the law that prevents injustice being done by restricting the amount of time available to submit claims. WRC applications have a general period of 6 months to submit an application for employment disputes, with a further 6 months available to be granted if there is a reasonable excuse as to why an application was not submitted on time.