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Time is of the Essence in Employment Cases

This week we look at not one, but two, recent decisions of the Labour Court. In both Central Bank of Ireland v Beasley, EDA2225 (an employment equality case), and Seating and Access Contracts Limited v Nowak, UDD2258 (an unfair dismissal case), the cases turned on deadlines being missed. Our Adrian Twomey highlights the key points to note in the decisions.

In Central Bank of Ireland v Beasley, the Complainant (a Mr. Richard Beasley), alleged that he had been the victim of age-related discrimination by the Central Bank. Mr. Beasley had applied for a job. He was informed by email on 27 April 2020 that he had not been successful in progressing to the next stage of the recruitment process. He submitted a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) more than seven months later, on 2 December 2020. The Employment Equality Act 1998 (as amended) provides that complaints must be filed within six months of the date of the last act of alleged discrimination. For that reason, the WRC concluded that the complaint had been submitted too late.

Mr. Beasley appealed to the Labour Court. He alleged that the last instance of discrimination had actually taken place on 4 June 2020 when he received an email from the Central Bank providing him with the selection scoresheet that gave rise to his complaint.

Whilst it is possible for the six month time limit to be extended to twelve months where there is "reasonable cause", Mr. Beasley had made no application to the WRC to have the time limit extended. The Labour Court, therefore, concluded that it could not consider a possible extension of the time limit. It went on to dismiss Mr. Beasley's appeal on the following basis:

"The Respondent draws the Court’s attention to the case of HSE v. Whelehan, EDA0923, in which it was observed that time limits in cases such as this are analogous to the limitation period for actions to be brought in common law, unless there is a statutory provision to the contrary. In Hegarty v. O’ Loughran, (1990) 1 IR 148, the Supreme Court held that a cause of action accrues at the time when all the requisite elements of the action existed whether or not the plaintiff knew of their existence.

In applying this principle to the instant case, the Complainant received notification on 27 April 2020 that his application was unsuccessful. He secured information from the Complainant on 4 June 2020. It is arguable as to whether the latest date of the occurrence of alleged discrimination is the date on which the Complainant’s application was marked by the Respondent or whether it is the later date of 27 April 2020 when he was advised of his lack of success. What is certain, however, is that it most certainly is not, when applying the logic of the Supreme Court above, the even later date of 4 June 2020.

The complaint was received after the prescribed period of six months."

It is difficult to not feel some sympathy for the Complainant, particularly in circumstances where he was representing himself and is unlikely to have been overly familiar with the applicable legal principles.

In the second case under our microscope this week, Seating and Access Contracts Limited v Nowak, UDD2258, the Complainant, Mr. Tomasz Nowak, won his case for unfair dismissal against his employer at the Workplace Relations Commission. He was awarded compensation of €5,200. The date of the WRC's decision was 27 November 2018.

The employer, apparently also self-represented, appealed the WRC's decision to the Labour Court on 28 March 2019. However, the Workplace Relations Act 2015 provides that such appeals must be lodged not later than 42 days after the date of the original decision. The Court has power to extend that deadline in cases where there are "exceptional circumstances". The only excuse offered by the employer, however, was that the woman who lodged the appeal was very busy and that she had incorrectly addressed an earlier appeal notification to the WRC itself.

The Court concluded that there were no exceptional circumstances justifying an extension of time. It therefore found that the appeal was statute-barred and affirmed the original decision of the WRC.

Both cases involved parties who were representing themselves and lost because they failed to file either a claim or an appeal within the requisite period. Those who require advice in relation to employment law cases or who need representation before the WRC or Labour Court can contact our Adrian Twomey.


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