Sheena Murphy    

I completed my degree at Queen’s University Belfast, followed by an apprenticeship with a highly regarded city centre practice, qualifying as a Solicitor in 1993.   I have considerable litigation experience, dealing with both employees and employers, as well as providing support and advice on everyday employment issues such as disciplinary procedures, contracts of employment, redundancy and formal grievances. 

Over the years, I gained a wealth of experience within the legal profession, joining a large firm in County Down where I established their employment unit, relocating strategically to the Belfast Office.

In October 1999 I opened this practice in Holywood, and made a decision to specialise in employment law providing advice and assistance in all aspects of the challenges faced both by employers and employees in the workplace.

Sheena Murphy

Frequently Asked Questions

I have a grievance at work?

If you are unable to sort the problem out informally then

  • Lodge a written grievance with your Employer.
  • Meet with your Employer to discuss your grievance.
  • Appeal against your Employer’s decision if you are not happy with it.

If you are not happy with the outcome you can take your case to an Industrial Tribunal or the Fair Employment Tribunal.

Do I have a claim for Discrimination?

If you have suffered discrimination and been dismissed and you have worked for the company for less than 12 months, then it may be possible to claim for unfair dismissal if it can be proven that it is strongly linked to the discrimination suffered.

I have been unfairly dismissed. Do I have a Claim?

You must have 12 months continuous service before you can lodge a standalone claim for Unfair Dismissal. Each claim will turn on its own merits and tailored advice should be sought in connection with each particular set of circumstances.

Even if I have worked for less than 12 consecutive months?

If you have suffered discrimination and been dismissed and you have worked with the company for less than 12 months it may be possible to claim for unfair dismissal if it can be proven that the dismissal is inextricably linked to any discrimination suffered.

How long do I have to make a Claim?

The length of time within which you ought to lodge a claim will be determined according to the type of claim you wish to issue. In general terms proceedings within the Tribunal system must be lodged within 3 months, either of the date upon which an act occurred, in connection with discrimination proceedings or alternatively within 3 months of the effective date of termination, if you are alleging unfair dismissal. There are variations on these time limits, however this is the rule of thumb.

How Long will a Claim Take?

The Tribunal system has become much more efficient in recent times and straightforward, stand alone, unfair dismissal claims can be listed and heard within a matter of months. Claims with a discrimination element attached, can take up to 6 months to be listed for hearing.

Do I Qualify for Redundancy Pay?

Entitlement to a redundancy package is determined by your length of service. An Employee must be continuously employed for a period in excess of 2 years before they qualify for redundancy pay.

How Much Compensation Could I get From an Employment Tribunal?

Compensation within the Tribunal system varies, depending on the type of claim taken. In the case of unfair dismissal there is a calculation contained within the statute which provides a method by which you can calculate precisely what you will receive in terms of your loss to date, and there is a discretion inherent in the Tribunal as to any future award. Furthermore penalties can be imposed for failure on the part of an Employer to comply with its statutory obligations in terms of its procedure. An uplift can be applied in these types of cases where it is felt appropriate for example if the Tribunal feel that the Employer has acted procedurally unfairly. Discrimination claims will be determined on their own merits and an award regarding injury to feelings will be made in meritorious claims.

In relation to Unfair Dismissal the maximum amount which can be awarded by an Employment Tribunal is in the region of £66,000.

For discrimination claims it is likely that Tribunals will consider awards, if successful, in the region of £2,000 to £25,000. It is worth noting that the average award given to successful discrimination claims in Northern Ireland is £6,000.

How Can I pay for my Solicitor’s Fees?

Our solicitors offer an initial free telephone consultation.

A consultation with a solicitor will be charged at their hourly rate which will be communicated to you in advance of attending our office.

Check your house insurance to see if your policy provider has included an employment dispute resolution policy as this may also cover your legal costs.

In relation to Compromise Agreements there is a fixed fee and in the majority of cases the Employer will make a contribution to legal fees which can cover the entire cost of obtaining advice in this context.

Can I get Legal Aid?

Unfortunately legal aid is not available for any employment related dispute. However an Employment Tribunal decision may appeal to the Court of Appeal, on a point of law. This is seen as an appeal to the Civil Courts and therefore it is possible for individuals to apply and receive legal aid in this regard.

I have just been made redundant what are my rights?

If you have been made redundant and you have been continuously employed for a period in excess of two years, you are entitled at the very least to the statutory minimum redundancy payment. You are also entitled to enter into a consultation period and there are minimum periods of time for such consultations depending on the number of Employees who are to be made redundant.

There is also an obligation on the Employer to actively aid you in seeking alternative employment either within the organisation you have been made redundant from or any external organisation.

You also have the right to know the reason you have been made redundant and to receive the criteria upon which the decision to make you redundant was based, as well as any matrices used by the Employer in coming to a conclusion as to who should be selected for redundancy.

In any redundancy situation the Employer must always follow the statutory dismissal process.

I am being bullied at work. What can I do to stop this?

If you are being bullied at work you should refer primarily to your contract and any dignity at work policy or any harassment policies. You should also approach your immediate line manager and informally notify him/her of any problems that you may be experiencing. If the problem persists then you have no other option but to lodge a written notification of your grievance with your line manager and/or with the human resources department. Alternatively, your contract of employment may stipulate the channels and methodology associated with lodging a grievance.

Once your grievance has been received a timetable for the hearing of the grievance will be communicated to you and you will be asked to attend an interview in relation to your grievance. An investigation will also begin and witnesses involved in the grievance may be asked to attend meetings for the purposes of statements being obtained. A conclusive meeting will then be held to which you will be invited and given a decision regarding your grievance.

In the event that you are unhappy with the outcome, the decision made by a grievance panel can be appealed to an appeal panel.

My boss won’t give me a contract. What can I do?

Failure by your Employer to provide you with a contract of employment within 2 months of your initial request for such a contract may prove a loss of your own statutory rights. You may be entitled to recover compensation in relation to your loss of statutory rights and this is usually around 2 weeks salary. To receive such a contract it may be worthwhile approaching your line manager informally and possibly lodging a grievance more formally before entering into litigation in the Industrial Tribunal for loss of statutory rights.

My boss has sacked me verbally and has told me not to come back to work - but I have done nothing wrong.

Unfortunately this is a common scenario where an Employer summarily dismisses individuals without carrying out the full investigation and dismissal process. If you have 1 year’s continuous service and if your Employer sacks you on the spot without holding an investigation and without allowing you any appeal to such a decision, your dismissal will be automatically unfair and challengeable in an Industrial Tribunal.

My boss has asked me to work extra hours and I have no contract. I have been used to the same hours for quite some time. He has threatened me with the sack if I don’t comply.

When you begin employment with an Employer you will receive a contract of employment which will stipulate your hours of work. If your Employer decides to unilaterally impose extra working hours on you without your consent this can be deemed a breach of contract. It is typical for Employers to increase working hours solely by agreement with the Employee. This agreement may result in an increase in salary. If your Employer decides to sack you because you do not agree to the extra hours, this may be deemed an unfair dismissal.

My Employer wants to discipline me. How do I know they are doing this fairly?

In order for a disciplinary process to be fair the issue must be a real one and your Employer cannot engineer some form of disciplinary process. You will usually know when you have done something wrong and if you have done something wrong then those Employees closely affected by the wrongdoing cannot, in any way, be a part of any disciplinary process and certainly cannot sit on any disciplinary panel in relation to the process. It is normal for a more senior official to be on a disciplinary panel in order for such a disciplinary process to be fair. The Employer is required to investigate any issues or wrongdoing thoroughly by asking each of the individuals involved to provide a written statement and then the Employer will further question each of the individuals involved based on their written submissions. All information will then be collated and provided to you in advance of a formal hearing. You will be given a period of notice prior to the formal hearing which will allow you an opportunity to prepare yourself. At the hearing you will be entitled to be accompanied by a trade union representative or a work colleague. You will have an opportunity to defend yourself in connection with the allegations. Ultimately the decision reached by the disciplinary panel will be communicated to you. If you are unhappy with the outcome you will have the right to appeal any such decision and an appeal should be made to an entirely different panel of individuals to ensure impartiality. Each of these steps should be taken within a reasonable period of time and if you are suspended pending any disciplinary process you should be paid your normal wages.

I have the same role as a male colleague but I know he is getting paid more than me. Is this fair?

If you carry out exactly the same role as another individual you should expect to receive the same level of remuneration. Matters may be complicated however if you have signed a contract and agreed to a certain rate of pay and then subsequently discover that you are being paid less than a colleague of the opposite sex. If you do feel that you are doing exactly the same level of work and that your role is exactly the same as a colleague of the opposite sex and you feel you are being paid less for such a role, it is best that you contact your line manager regarding this and allow him / her to informally deal with the issue. If this does not resolve matters then you may lodge a written grievance in this regard. There may then be an investigation into your role and into the role of your colleague. If the matter remains unresolved then there may be sufficient grounds for you to pursue a claim for discrimination on the grounds of your gender.

I am 65 years of age. Do I have to retire?

If you are 65 years or more, your Employer can retire you on a compulsory basis. To prevent such a retirement being automatically unfair your Employer must inform you of the fact that they can retire you at 65 and this information must be communicated to you between 12 and 6 months before your 65th birthday. This will give you a 6 month notice period within which you can request an extension of your employment beyond 65 years. Your right only extends to you asking the Employer to consider allowing you to work beyond your 65th birthday, your Employer does not have to accept this request.