The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on almost every aspect of life over the course of this year. One of the consequences was the cessation of hearings in employment law cases at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). There have been some signs of a resumption of activities at the WRC in recent weeks. However, an announcement by Leo Varadkar, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, last night (22 September 2020) heralds the likely commencement of virtual hearings from tomorrow (24 September) onwards.
The Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020, which was signed into law by the President in August 2020 made provision for remote hearings and the use of electronic means of communication in civil proceedings. It also introduced a number of other measures many of which were seen as necessary because of the pandemic.
Section 31 of the 2020 Act allowed for Ministers to introduce regulations providing for remote or virtual hearings by designated bodies. Minister Varadkar has now relied upon that section to designate the WRC for the purposes of the Act (as announced on his Twitter feed).
In simple terms, the new regulations allow the WRC to conduct hearings by way of video-conference. Given that such methods have already been used for WRC mediation sessions, we expect to see the commencement of regular remote hearings in the very near future. That will come as a relief to employees - and some employers - who have been waiting for several months for hearings that have until now been significantly delayed.