The Workplace Relations Act 2015 requires that most claims under employment rights legislation must be submitted to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) within six months of the cause of action arising. That time limit can be extended by a further six months where the Adjudication Officer is satisfied that the Complainant has shown "reasonable cause". In the recent case of Conry v Vendor Finance Ireland Limited, ADJ-00031693, the Complainant sought an extension of time. Our Adrian Twomey reviews the decision.
The Complainant, Mr. Conry, was a commercial manager employed by Vendor Finance Ireland Limited for just over three years between July 2017 and July 2020. His employment was then terminated on the basis that it was deemed by the employer to be redundant. Mr. Conry sought to challenge his dismissal, asserting that there was a lack of transparency in the criteria used by the employer when selecting him for redundancy.
The employer denied any unfairness, stating that a redundancy situation had arisen due to extraordinary trading conditions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The employer also contended that the claim had been submitted outside of the normal six-month time limit.
The time limit issue proved to be fatal to the Complainant's claim. Having been dismissed on 28 July 2020, the Complainant filed his complaint with the WRC on 28 January 2021; six months and one day later.
The Complainant asked that the Adjudication Officer extend the time limit as permitted under the 2015 Act and argued that there was "reasonable cause" for his delay. He explained that his father had been diagnosed with an extremely serious medical condition in July 2020 and had been told that he had 6-9 months to live. The Complainant's father passed away on 18 May 2021. The Complainant explained that he had visited his father in hospital on 25 January 2021. On that occasion, Mr. Conry's father became very unwell and the Complainant was effectively preoccupied by that matter for 48 hours. He explained that he then filed his claim online on 28 January 2021, believing at the time that this was within the six-month statutory time limit.
Mr. Conry's understanding as to when the six-month limit expired reflected a common misunderstanding of the law on this point. However, there have been numerous decisions over the years indicating that the six-month period within which an unfair dismissal claim may be initiated expires on the day before the six-month anniversary of the dismissal. In those circumstances, Mr. Conry's complaint was filed one day outside of the permissible period.
The Adjudication Officer then had to decide if the Complainant had shown "reasonable cause" for his delay. In doing so, she commented that:
"While I fully acknowledge the distress arising for the claimant and his family during the acute stage of his father’s illness in January 2021, the claimant has advanced no compelling evidence or explanation for failing to lodge the complaint during the 5+ months following the termination of his employment and prior to the acute illness of his father in January 2021."
The Adjudication Officer then decided that the complaint had been filed "out of time" or too late and duly dismissed it.
The outcome highlights the importance of not delaying before filing claims with the WRC and obtaining appropriate legal advice on technical issues arising in employment cases. Those requiring such guidance or representation before the WRC can contact our Adrian Twomey.