High bar to jump for employees seeking injunctive relief

A recent Court of Appeal decision highlights the difficulties employees will encounter in securing an injunction relating to their employment.

Broadly speaking, an employee will only succeed in securing an employment injunction as a temporary measure before a full hearing into an alleged breach of their employment contract.

The employee’s application for injunctive relief in Kearney v Byrne Wallace failed on the basis that he could not establish that there had been a breach of the employment contract by his employer.

In the circumstances, the High Court had no jurisdiction to decide on the merits of the dismissal. Jurisdiction fell squarely to the Workplace Relations Commission under the Unfair Dismissals Act and the Redundancy Payments Acts.

Injunctive relief for employees

If an employee is to succeed in securing an injunction that suspends a dismissal pending the full hearing of the claim, the employee must pass the following tests:

  • The employee must demonstrate that s/he has a strong case which is likely to succeed at the full hearing of the claim;
  • Damages will not be an adequate remedy (reputational damage is often claimed by employees when seeking to prevent their dismissal); and
  • The balance of convenience lies in favour of granting the injunction.

In an employment context, the employee must have a strong case demonstrating that the employer has breached either express or implied terms in the employment contract to succeed with an employment injunction application.

Kearney v Byrne Wallace

In Kearney v Byrne Wallace, the plaintiff was an employee at the solicitors’ firm Byrne Wallace. He suffered from ill health and was absent from work intermittently over the course of his employment.

The employer ultimately made his position redundant and paid him the appropriate statutory and contractual entitlements in lieu of notice.

Mr Kearney sought injunctive relief in the High Court to prevent his employer from making him redundant pending a full hearing of the matter.

Mr Kearney alleged that the redundancy was a sham and that his claim lay outside the statutory framework for resolving unfair dismissal claims. He argued that he had a strong case at common law for breach of implied terms in his employment contract.

High Court decision

The High Court found that Mr Kearney had not submitted enough evidence to prove his case that the redundancy was a sham. In the absence of a contractual basis for the claim, the High Court ruled that it had no jurisdiction to hear the employee’s case.

The High Court stated that the correct forum for Mr Kearney’s claim was the Workplace Relations Commission.

Court of Appeal decision

The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court decision in ruling that Mr Kearney had not made out a strong case justifying the grant of an injunction against the employer.

In examining the common law claim, the Court of Appeal found that employer was entitled to terminate a contract of employment provided it gave proper notice. As the employer had provided the relevant statutory and contractual payment in lieu of notice, no claim arose.

The Court of Appeal also noted that the employee failed to clarify exactly what actions of the employer he deemed to constitute breaches of the implied duty of trust and good faith.

In the circumstances, the proper route of redress for the employee was to make an unfair dismissal claim to the Workplace Relations Commission.

Note for employers

An injunction will not be available to employees if their claim is one that should be resolved under the statutory mechanisms set out in employment legislation.

If you do terminate an employee’s contract of employment, be sure to adhere to fair procedures and the relevant statutory and contractual notice periods. This will reduce any risk of the employee securing an injunction.

In the employment context, the majority of employment claims are resolved under the statutory framework set down in Ireland’s body of employment legislation.

If employees do seek injunctive relief outside the statutory employment law framework, not only must they meet the relevant tests required to obtain an injunction, they must also consider whether the High Court will even have jurisdiction to hear the claim.

If the employee’s claim falls squarely under existing employment legislation, the High Court will not have the requisite jurisdiction to rule on the matter.

If you have any questions in relation to this article, call the advice line on +353 1 886 0350 to speak with one of our experts.

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