Education Update: Application of Time Limit for Issuing Proceedings - Recent EAT Case
15 March 2017
We recently successfully defended an unfair dismissal case brought by a teacher against a Board of Management in relation to a dismissal on the grounds of ill-health. We look at the facts of the case and how the Workplace Relations Commission strictly adheres to the time limits for issuing proceedings set down by the Unfair Dismissal Act.
The teacher’s entitlement to paid sick leave expired in January 2010 and in accordance with Circular Letter 60/2010 she was granted a further period of unpaid sick leave.
When this period of unpaid sick leave was due to expire she was referred by the Board of Management to Medmark for an opinion in relation to the prospect of her recovery and return to work. Medmark was of the opinion that a return to work in the near future was not viable. The Board of Management terminated her employment on the grounds of ill-health in May 2012.
The teacher in question issued unfair dismissal proceedings before the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) in May 2013. The Board of Management referred to Section 8 (2) of the Unfair Dismissal Act which provides that a claim must be made within six months of the date of dismissal. While this period can be extended by a further six months, the WRC would have to be satisfied that exceptional circumstances prevented the teacher from bringing her claim within that time period. The teacher in question argued that exceptional circumstances applied to her case as she had been prevented from issuing proceedings within the initial six-month time limit due to ill health and a number of hospital admissions.
The WRC found that there were no exceptional circumstances which prevented her from taking her claim within six months of the date of termination of her employment. It was influenced in its decision by the fact that during this period she was represented by a trade union and had the benefit of legal advice. Her claim was therefore out of time and could not proceed.
The time limits set down by the Unfair Dismissal Act are strictly applied by the WRC. A former employee’s ill-health will not necessarily be accepted as an exceptional circumstance, particularly where that employee is represented by a trade union and/or has the benefit of legal advice during that period. In any event, even if the WRC does accept that the time period should be extended, it can only extend it up to a maximum of one year following the dismissal. Employers should be aware that any unfair dismissal complaint made by a former employee more than one year after their dismissal will almost certainly not be allowed to proceed.