An employee was assigned by her employer to work for another company. The employer invoiced the other company for the employee’s labour while continuing to pay her wages.

The employee raised some concerns about the company she was assigned to. She emailed the company stating she was not happy with her timesheets, one of the manager’s attitude towards her, and the company’s health and safety standards.

When her assignment ended, the company gave the employee notice that she was no longer required. The employee believed that she had been “fired” from her role as a “subcontractor”.

The employee brought a claim for unjustified dismissal to the Employment Relations Authority and listed both her employer and the company as other parties.

The Authority can join a third party to employment claims as a “controlling third party” when a personal grievance occurs while the employee was working under the control or direction of a third party.

In this case, the Authority refused to join the company. The employee appealed against the decision in the Employment Court.

The Court stated that, for the company to be added as a party, there must have been a personal grievance made against the employer.

While personal grievances can be made in an indirect manner, a personal grievance must include something from which the employer could know that it was required to take steps to address the problem.

Here, the employee’s email to the company did not raise concerns with her employer, it merely listed issues with the company she was subcontracted to.

Additionally, the employee’s pleading in the Authority did not indicate that there was a claim against the employer even though it was listed as a party. While the employer took part in the Authority proceedings, it was not held to be responding to a personal grievance.

The Court explained that the purpose of joining a controlling third party to a personal grievance claim is to resolve a personal grievance between the employee and the employer. The ability to join a third party cannot be used to bypass involving the employer.

Instead, the employee should have initially raised a personal grievance with her employer. It is only after this happens that the controlling third party can be joined to the proceeding, by either the employee or employer, for having caused or contributed to the personal grievance.

Once joined to the proceeding, the controlling third party can be liable to the employee to provide the same remedies as an employer (if the personal grievance claim is successful). This can include reinstatement, reimbursement of lost wages, and compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity, and injury to feelings.

As there was no personal grievance established against the employer, the company could not be joined as a controlling third party.

Alan Knowsley and Hanifa Kodirova