LRA Arbitration Scheme allows claims to employment-related tribunals in Northern Ireland to be resolved through arbitration.
Under the Scheme claimants and respondents can choose to refer a claim to an arbitrator to decide instead of going to a tribunal hearing. The arbitrator's decision is binding as a matter of law and has the same effect as a tribunal.
The Scheme is the first of its kind in the UK. It is entirely voluntary and free to use.
Jurisdictions covered by Scheme
The Scheme covers claims in most jurisdictions, including:
- unfair or constructive dismissal
- payments owed, including notice pay, holiday pay, arrears of pay, and breach of contract
- redundancy payments
- discrimination in recruitment or employment on the grounds of age, disability, equal pay, gender, part-time working, political opinion, race, religious belief or sexual orientation
- flexible working arrangements
- less favourable treatment of fixed term employees or agency workers
Only a small number of specialised jurisdictions are not covered by the Scheme.
The Scheme is a legally binding alternative to a tribunal. It is:
- Confidential – hearings are held in private. Unlike a tribunal process, where adverse publicity is possible, details about or outcomes of cases are not published.
- Quick – a hearing to consider a claim will normally take place within two months of an Arbitration Agreement being received by the Agency. The hearing normally lasts for less than one day. The decision on the claim is normally issued within 14 days after the hearing.
- Non-legalistic and informal – hearings take place without, for example, any swearing of oaths.
- Non-adversarial – there is no cross–examination of witnesses. This makes it particularly appropriate where the employment relationship between a claimant and a respondent is expected to continue after the hearing.
- Cost efficient – the speed and informality of the process mean that it is less costly to the parties than using a tribunal.
- Flexible – if both parties agree, proceedings can be suspended at any time to allow for conciliation to find a way of resolving the claim without the need for a decision by an arbitrator.
- Able to award legally enforceable remedies in the same way as an employment tribunal.
Entry to the Scheme is through an Arbitration Agreement, which will normally be drawn up by an LRA Conciliation Officer. Once an Arbitration Agreement has been concluded the claim can no longer be heard by a tribunal.
Claims are decided under the Scheme by an arbitrator who is appointed by the LRA on the basis of their knowledge, adjudication skills and employment relations expertise. They are independent and impartial.
In deciding whether to uphold a claim the arbitrator will:
- carefully consider all aspects of a claim, taking into account the cases put forward by both parties
- make an objective decision to resolve the matter
- apply general principles of fairness and good conduct in employment relations, including principles referred to in any relevant codes of practice
- take account of the provisions of relevant guidance, such as that published by the LRA
A hearing is held to consider the issues. This is based on written submissions made by each party. The hearing is an opportunity for each party to highlight the key points of their case to the arbitrator. Witnesses may also attend to provide evidence.
Questions are asked by the arbitrator to clarify points. The parties may also ask questions of each other through the arbitrator.
Hearings normally last for less than one day and will normally take place within two months of the Arbitration Agreement being received by the Agency.
Hearings are normally held at the Agency's offices in Belfast or Derry/Londonderry. They are held in private, unlike in tribunals where members of the public and the media are allowed to attend.
If they wish, parties may bring someone to help them present their case – for example, a colleague, a trade union representative or a legal adviser.
If the parties agree, proceedings can be suspended at any time in order to find a way of resolving the claim through conciliation. The services of a Conciliation Officer are available to the parties before, and during, a hearing to help them reach a settlement. A settlement reached using a Conciliation Officer is binding and legally enforceable.
The arbitrator's decision is called an award. It is final and legally binding. The award is sent to both parties at the same time, normally within 14 days after the hearing has taken place.
If the arbitrator finds in favour of the claimant, the award will contain details of what needs to be done (the remedy). The remedies available to the arbitrator are the same as those available to an employment-related tribunal. Such remedies could, for example, be financial compensation or, in the case of unfair dismissal, reinstatement or re–engagement. The award is enforceable through the courts in the same way as if it had been made by a tribunal.
In line with the Agency's remit to promote good employment relations, arbitrators may make recommendations to improve employment practices within an employer's organisation in light of the claim.
While an arbitrator's award is final and legally binding on the parties, it can be appealed or challenged in certain circumstances.