An Expat struggle with the employer and Workplace Relation Commission in Ireland

Pooja Sharma

I arrived in Dublin on a balmy afternoon in August 2017. At the cusp of what should have
been the start of an amazing year pursuing a Masters degree at Ireland’s top university –
Trinity College Dublin, I found myself fighting a legal battle against one of the city’s largest
English Language school for discrimination and unfavourable treatment.

This article will be useful for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation and are
wondering whether or not to pursue legal action against their current or former employer.
Through my experience, I learned immensely about the process of pursuing a complaint
through the WRC and its complexities. I hope that it will help others, who like me, can’t afford legal representation, and have been victims of discrimination or unjust treatment in
any form.

A bit of my story and a background to the substantive case

On arrival in Dublin, with 5 years of English teaching experience, and the right
qualifications, I started out ambitiously – sending in numerous applications. After 7 long
months without any income, I finally managed to get an interview at international English school. I was asked if I
could cover a class on the same day. Having not made any money since my arrival in
Dublin, I agreed. I was not given a contract or even an email describing the conditions of
my work, despite asking many times.

In what followed over the next few months (January to March 2018), I entered an endless
cycle of covering classes for teachers who were off sick, sometimes arranged in advance
but often called last-minute. I was working extremely irregular hours. In February, I was
promised a class which would guarantee me 9.75 hours per week – 180 euros a week – but
it never happened. All of this was happening in a workplace where new teachers were
constantly being hired, often with significantly lesser experience. They were given
contracts, a definite number of hours to work, a definite income to take home each month.
They were even given cash bonuses just to refer their friends to the many positions the
school was advertising for at the time. In contrast, I couldn’t even be given 9.75 hours a

I told the managers many times about the excellent feedback I received from the classes I’d
covered and requested them to give me some fixed hours. Many of these requests were
simply not replied to – but I continued to be asked to cover. It completely destroyed my
morale, for my request to not so much as be acknowledged, let alone responded to.
Unable to sustain myself in Dublin, with no financial or emotional support – I had to return
home to India. I informed the school that due to the situation with work, money, and lack
of support, I’m forced to return and that they should contact me in late April or May if they
have work available. “See you when you’re back from India” ,I was told.

Filing the WRC complaint

After coming back to Ireland in late April, it was clear that the school had no intention of
getting back in touch with me.
On May 26 2018, I decided to pursue legal action. I submitted a WRC complaint under
“Fixed and Part Time work”, stating that I had been treated less favourably than a
comparable full time employee.

The first adjudication

An adjudicator was arranged to hear the case. I went to the hearing at Lansdowne House –
alone but strong, alone but sure. The school was not present at the hearing – this turned out to be
a key learning point in the case as I’ll explain later. In the courtroom, the adjudicator heard
the case and read the evidence that I had presented.

A couple of days later, I received a favourable decision. The English school was to pay me a small
compensation. After waiting for a few weeks for the company to take some action, I got in
touch with the school directly who refused to respect the WRC decision or to make any
payments. They claimed that they did not receive any communication about the case and
that the address provided on the complaint form was of one of their teaching centers
(which was my place of work for 3 months+ and where the English school had a consistent presence) but
not their legal address. After months of attempts with the help of my TD Brid Smith and the
WRC to have the decision enforced, in March 2019, precisely 10 months after I had first
submitted my complaint, the WRC had decided that, “enforcement of the decision was
going to be problematic due to the issue of the address”.

The second complaint and adjudication

It’s hard to describe how easily, months of the work I had put into the case, were deemed
null. I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue, the system would beat me to it every time,
nothing would come of it – I told myself.

I felt so much anger towards an industry that repeatedly mistreats people like me – the
non-native, non-European, non-white English teacher – the bottom of the pile for jobs. In
that workplace, I was only good enough to pick up the remains of what my white
counterpart, fresh out of the university with no teaching experience, couldn’t manage to fit
in their monthly paycheck.

Undeterred, I submitted a second complaint in April 2019, this time with the name and
address of the legal entity. Since my complaint fell outside of the 6 month period, the WRC
asked me to justify that “the failure to present the complaint/ dispute within statutory
timelines was due to reasonable cause”. I reasoned that the time taken to discover the
issue of address, effectively 10 months, should count as reasonable cause. A few months
later, I was asked to provide a detailed sequence of events if my complaint related to
“constructive dismissal and/ or employment inequality.” I made a submission stating that I
was forced out of employment because of unfavourable treatment and one of the reasons
that I was treated this way was because I was a non-native English speaker and the
company found it profitable to keep me on cover duty.

Finally, there was a glimmer of hope a second hearing was arranged to take place on 31st July 2019.
In the days leading up to the hearing, I read up on Irish laws and prepared how I would
respond to allegations that I was the worst employee ever. I prepared an 8 page legal
submission with 22 appendix citations that made up my evidence. I made my way to
Lansdowne House accompanied by A, a former public servant, who joined me as a
supporter and observer of the WRC process, thanks to the support of my TD Brid Smith,
without whose support I could not have continued the fight!

Within minutes of entering the courtroom and taking a moment’s look at my submission,
the adjudicator proclaimed that he cannot hear the case as it has already been heard. I
trembled in fear and confusion but tried to reason. The English school was attempting to use a case law
called “Henderson and Henderson” which states that a party cannot be prosecuted twice in
the same matter, to prevent the actual case from being heard. With whatever courage I
could muster with the legalese being thrown at me, I responded that the company is not
being prosecuted twice, and in fact the original hearing had no outcome for me, or for
them. The adjudicator eventually decided that he was not going to hear the actual case.

I was asked to make a submission to demonstrate why the case should be heard, despite the
implications of the Henderson case law. It was like undoing the progress that was made in the 1.5 years that preceded this day, yet again, to null. I was exhausted and just wanted to put this behind me sometimes even
wondering why I chose to do this at all. Nonetheless, I made the submission and reasoned
that :

1.The company cannot claim that they are being prosecuted twice while at the same time
asking for the decision of the first hearing to be nullified.

  1. It is possible, and up to the WRC’s discretion, to re-run cases in “special circumstances”
    and that the issue of the company’s changed address met this standard.
  2. If this case is not heard today, it leaves the Henderson case law open for
    exploitatation on by employers who can ignore the first proceedings and then prevent a
    second one from being heard.

I hit the send button on Aug 26 2019, and the wait lasted a bit longer than I expected. A
year later, after numerous follow ups, I was finally told that my case is scheduled for
hearing on 26 February 2021.

The third adjudication

Two weeks before the hearing, the company contacted me and offered to pay the amount
that was awarded in the outcome of the first hearing in exchange for withdrawing the case.
I politely declined their offer and invited them to court. The third, latest, and hopefully the final hearing of my case took place in a post-pandemic virtual courtroom. I was joined by J, founding member of ELT Ireland, and ELT Advocacy
Ireland, who joined me as a supporter and observer of the WRC process. The adjudicator was to make a decision on two issues – first on whether the WRC has jurisdiction in my case despite the issue of time, and the Henderson case law. Based on the outcome of the first issue, a decision would then be made on whether I was treated unfavourably based on the evidence presented by me and the school. During the hearing, the school didn’t have anything to offer except to attempt, yet again, to prevent the actual case from being heard. I reiterated the arguments that I had already made in my submissions. A weight was lifted off my shoulders to finally have an opportunity to present the facts and evidence of the case. As of I haven’t received a decision on my case.

My learnings and advice if you’re considering filing a WRC complaint

If you are considering taking legal action against your employer, there are a couple of
things to keep in mind when filling out the WRC complaint form.

Employment Details
This section requires start and end dates of your employment, the place where you
worked, and so on. The dates are particularly important because it determines whether the
WRC can hear your case or not. This is because all complaints must be filed within 6
months of the alleged contravention taking place. If you file a complaint later, the WRC will
ask you to demonstrate that the delay was due to reasonable cause.

Respondent Details
This section requires the details of the “legal entity” against whom you are filing the
complaint. Your employer may have a presence in many locations (including your place of
work) but the address and details must be those of the legal entity. You will find these
details on the CRO website Not submitting the legal name, and
entity can cause a whole host of problems as it did in my case.

Specific Complaint
This section requires the details of the specific law under which you are submitting your
complaint and what is the form of redressal you are seeking. Consider this section very
very carefully and consider getting advice from Citizens Information, your Union representative, your TD or the FLAC. All of these are excellent resources who can help you select the correct category and law which your complaint falls under.

Don’t try to do it all alone
Pursuing legal action can be extremely emotionally taxing, and as is evident from my
experience, can drag on for years without any closure. Listen to the advice of your friends
and family, who can provide an objective stance on issues, especially during what can be a
very emotional and distressing time. Be prepared for the hard knocks, talk to people, and
listen intently to those who have your best interest at heart.

Finding closure
I may not have a decision in my case yet and I don’t know whether the decision will answer
the question that I set out to find the answer to – Why was I treated the way I was? What did I lack that others didn’t?
Nonetheless, I’m glad and proud that I pursued the case despite the setbacks. I really do
hope that this story will inspire someone to take a stand and fight for their rights.

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