The Workplace Relations Act 2015 came into force in October 2015 and contains the most significant overhauls to the practice of employment law since the establishment of the Employment Appeals Tribunal nearly 50 years ago.
The aim of the Act is to streamline the dispute procedure in employment law. Before this Act came into force, the system of employment rights dispute resolution was very complex for all involved, including employee, employer and for lawyers without specialised knowledge. There were several different bodies covering over forty individual pieces of employment legislation, with varying remedies and different time limits for taking a claim, different avenues for an appeal and different methods of hearing a dispute. McCrann noted “What was designed to be a simple system outside of the courts, which was a very good idea, turned into, ironically, a more complex web of different fora for different things.”
This new Act was brought in to simplify and streamline workplace disputes procedures and bodies.
Under the old system and depending on the type of workplace dispute, an employee may have had to take their case to one or more of: the Labour Relations Commission; the Equality Tribunal; a Rights Commissioner; the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT); or the National Employment Rights Authority. Each of those bodies has different procedures for appeals (i.e. you appeal a decision of the EAT to the Circuit Court and appeal a decision of the Equality Tribunal to the Labour Court) and different limitation periods for taking cases. Now limitation periods for the referral of a dispute under any employment or equality legislation will be standardised to six months. This can be extended to twelve months where “reasonable cause” can be shown. This introduces a lower bar than the “exceptional circumstances” that was previously required by the EAT in order to extend time, and may make it easier for employees to extend the time limit in respect of employment protection claims.
The Act now provides for a single gateway for employment disputes in Ireland and replaces complexity of different tribunals and courts. From now on, all employment disputes – everything from unfair dismissals and discrimination claims to working time issues, pay claims and any industrial relations issues – will be referred to an Adjudication Officer in the newly established Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in the first instance. There is now one appeal body and that is the Labour Court.
The Transitional Arrangements
From 1 October 2015, the new system commenced and any claim submitted on 1 October or after proceeds under the new Rules. Generally any claim already submitted or appealed prior to that date will proceed under the old regime and as such there will be a wind-down of the old regime over the coming two years or so as any outstanding cases are worked through.
 See Sheehan, F. (2013) Transforming the Employment Rights Dispute Resolution System – Part I, 2013 ILT Irish Law Times 2013, 31, 7477, at 7477.
 Recent comments by McCrann, Terence., a partner at McCann-FitzGerald solicitors, which recently hosted a seminar on the forthcoming legislation – “What was designed to be a simple system outside of the courts, which was a very good idea, turned into, ironically, a more complex web of different fora for different things.”