The Employment Law Review: Ireland
Employment in Ireland is regulated by an extensive statutory framework, much of which has its origins in European Community law. The Irish Constitution, the law of equity and common law remain relevant, particularly in relation to applications for injunctions to restrain dismissals and actions for breach of contract. The main legislation in the employment law area includes:
- the Industrial Relations Acts 1946–2015;
- the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967–2014;
- the Protection of Employment Act 1977–2014;
- the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts 1973–2005;
- the Unfair Dismissals Acts (UDA) 1977–2015;
- the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1988–2018;
- the Payment of Wages Act 1991;
- the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 and 2014;
- the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004;
- the Adoptive Leave Acts 1995–2005;
- the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 (OWTA);
- the Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015;
- the Parental Leave Acts 1998–2019;
- the National Minimum Wage Act 2000–2015;
- the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001;
- the Carer's Leave Act 2001 (as amended);
- the European Communities (Protection of Employees on Transfer of Undertakings) Regulations 2003;
- the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003;
- the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005–2014;
- the Employees (Provision of Information and Consultation) Act 2006;
- the Employment Permits Acts 2003–2014;
- the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007;
- the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012;
- the Protected Disclosures Act 2014;
- the Workplace Relations Act 2015;
- the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016;
- the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018; and
- the Parent's Leave and Benefit Act 2019.
Employment rights under Irish law can be enforced under the specially allocated statutory forum (the Workplace Relations Commission), or by the civil courts in appropriate cases. The process of determining which body or court will have jurisdiction in a particular case mainly depends on whether the claim is being brought under either statute or common law.
In general, employers' liability (i.e., personal injury) claims and breach of contract claims are dealt with in the civil courts, as are applications for injunctive relief in relation to employment matters, whereas statutory claims (those made, for example, under the UDA or the OWTA) are heard by the Workplace Relations Commission or the Labour Court (on appeal).
i Civil courts
The civil judicial system in Ireland is tiered, based on the monetary value of particular claims. At the lowest level, the District Court deals with claims not exceeding €15,000; it rarely hears employment-related disputes. At the next level is the Circuit Court, where jurisdiction is generally limited to awards of up to €75,000 (except for personal injury actions when the jurisdiction is limited to €60,000), although when a case has been appealed to the Circuit Court from the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) in relation to any remaining legacy cases under the old system (see Section I.ii), it has jurisdiction to exceed this limit and make awards up to the jurisdictional level of the EAT. There is no longer a right of appeal to the Circuit Court under the new Workplace Relations system for all cases issued on or after 1 October 2015. The Circuit Court also has potentially unlimited jurisdiction in relation to gender equality cases. When the sums involved in a contractual claim exceed €75,000, the action must be brought in the High Court, which has unlimited jurisdiction. Only the Circuit and High courts can hear applications for injunctive relief.
ii The Workplace Relations Commission
The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) is an independent statutory body established on 1 October 2015 following the Workplace Relations Act 2015 (the 2015 Act). The WRC took over the functions of the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA), the Labour Relations Commission, the Equality Tribunal and the first instance (complaints and referrals) function of the EAT. The WRC is the sole body to which all industrial relation disputes and complaints in accordance with employment legislation will be presented. All claims issued prior to 1 October 2015 before any of the relevant bodies will be dealt with under the old system, until they have fully concluded. At the time of writing, there are a small number of cases to be dealt with in this manner.
Following the 2015 Act, the WRC provides conciliation, advisory, mediation and early resolution services, as well as an adjudication service. The latter (formerly the Rights Commissioner service) investigates disputes, grievances and claims made under the relevant employment legislation. A complaint may also be referred to mediation if deemed suitable; otherwise, it will go before an adjudicator. The WRC also has discretion to deal with complaints by written submission only, unless either party objects within 42 days of being informed.
A major difference compared to the old system is that all WRC hearings are held in private. The employer has 56 days from the date of the decision to implement it, and should the employer fail to do so, the employee may apply to the District Court for an order directing the employer to fulfil the order. If the decision relates to the UDA, and the decision was to reinstate or re-engage the employee, the District Court may substitute an order to pay compensation of up to 104 weeks' pay, in accordance with the UDA. In the context of claims under the UDA, the WRC has powers to require witnesses to attend and give evidence at a WRC hearing or to produce any documentation in the person's possession, custody or control that relate to the case.
The WRC also has powers to carry out workplace inspections to ensure compliance with employment legislation.
iii Labour Court
Since 1 October 2015, the Labour Court is the single appeal body for all workplace relation disputes. The EAT will continue to hear all appeals submitted prior to the commencement of the 2015 Act and there remain a number of cases to be heard by the EAT (some hearings are scheduled for 2020). It is intended that the EAT will be wound up once all the legacy cases have been heard.
The Labour Court can choose to deal with a dispute by written submissions only, unless either party objects. Unlike the WRC, all hearings before the Labour Court are held in public, unless it decides, owing to special circumstances, that the matter should be heard in private. The Court has wide powers under the 2015 Act to require witnesses to attend and to take evidence on oath.
A Labour Court decision may be appealed on a point of law only to the High Court.
Year in review
The Irish economy is continuing to grow. The Economic and Social Research Institute has forecast economic growth of 3.1 per cent in 2020, though this is subject to the technical assumption that the United Kingdom does not leave the European Union in a 'hard Brexit'. The unemployment rate stabilised in 2019 and, according to the Central Statistics Office, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stood at 4.8 per cent in December 2019.
The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018 came into operation in March 2019. It is significant in that it brought changes in a wide range of areas of Irish employment law, such as a requirement that employers provide a written statement of five core terms within five days of commencement of employment, a ban on zero-hour contracts in most circumstances (unless it is genuinely casual work, emergency cover or short-term relief work) and the introduction of the concept of banded contract hours. Additionally, minimum wage rates for employees who are 18 years old (or younger) or 19 years old have been simplified and reflect a percentage of the national minimum wage (currently €9.80 for employees over 20 years old). From 1 February 2020, the national minimum wage for employees over 20 years old increases to €10.10.
There have been some changes in the area of leave entitlements with the introduction of a new form of leave, known as parent's leave, and an increase in existing entitlements in relation to parental leave. These changes are outlined in more detail in Section IX.
Several notable changes to the Irish immigration system were made during 2019, by both the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI). Significant changes include the introduction of a pre-clearance process for partners to be recognised for the purposes of family reunification for certain employment permit holders and Irish nationals. INIS now also grants immediate access to the labour market upon arrival for the spouses and recognised partners of certain employment permit holders, whereas previously such dependants would need to arrive and apply for an employment permit before working.
i Investigations and fair procedures
MCKELVEY V. IARNRÓD ÉIREANN/IRISH RAIL2
This case arose from a disciplinary process in which the employer alleged that the employee, Mr McKelvey, had committed theft by the misuse of fuel cards, causing financial loss to the employer. Mr McKelvey requested that he be allowed to be represented by a solicitor and counsel at the disciplinary hearing. The employer's disciplinary process provided that an employee could be represented by a colleague or trade union representative and Mr McKelvey's request was denied.
The High Court found that it would be contrary to the principles of fair procedures and natural justice to deny him the right to legal representation. However, this was overturned on appeal by the Court of Appeal and affirmed by the Supreme Court.
In doing so, the Supreme Court endorsed a previous Supreme Court decision in Burns and another v. The Governor of Castlerea Prison.3 In Burns, the Supreme Court held that an employee may be entitled to legal representation in disciplinary hearings but that this right would only arise in 'exceptional' circumstances. However, some doubt was cast over Burns in 2017 by the High Court decision in Lyons v. Longford Westmeath Education and Training Board4 as it appeared to suggest that an employee is entitled to legal representation as part of fair procedures in all disciplinary processes. Whereas, the decision of the High Court in Lyons created a degree of uncertainty around disciplinary processes, the McKelvey Supreme Court decision upholding the decision of the Court of Appeal has provided welcome clarity for employers in that they can refuse a request for an employee to be legally represented at a disciplinary hearing unless there are exceptional circumstances, such that the employee would not receive a fair hearing without legal representation.
On the facts of McKelvey, Chief Justice Clarke considered various factors set out in the Burns decision but ultimately found that the allegation of misconduct against Mr McKelvey was a straightforward one and there were no exceptional circumstances that necessitated legal representation for Mr McKelvey during the disciplinary process.
ii Disability discrimination – duty of reasonable accommodation
NANO NAGLE SCHOOL V. DALY5
This was a long-running case concerning a claim by Ms Marie Daly, a special needs assistant (SNA), against Nano Nagle School, a special needs school, for failure to adequately consider or evaluate potential options of reasonable accommodation.
Ms Daly was involved in a road traffic accident in 2010, which left her paralysed and wheelchair-bound. She sought to return to work following a period of rehabilitation and the school carried out a number of occupational health, ergonomic and risk assessments. These determined that Ms Daly would be unable to perform nine of the 16 core duties associated with her role as an SNA. On that basis, the school concluded that she was medically unfit to return to her role and she was dismissed on incapacity grounds. The school did not discuss any alternative options to reasonably accommodate Ms Daly's return to work with either her or the other SNAs employed by the school.
Ms Daly brought a claim under the Employment Equality Act 1998 (as amended) (the Act) claiming that the school failed to provide reasonable accommodation for her, as required by Section 16 of the Act, which would have enabled her to return to her employment. Section 16 provides that employers are obliged to take appropriate measures to enable an employee with a disability to undertake the essential duties of his or her position, subject to this not being a disproportionate burden. If these measures are taken and the employee is still not fully competent and capable of undertaking the role, then the employer is not obliged to continue the employment.
Ms Daly was initially unsuccessful in the Equality Tribunal (now the WRC) but this was overturned by the Labour Court, which awarded compensation of €40,000. This was affirmed by the High Court, which held that the school had breached Section 16 of the Act. The High Court decision was then overturned by the Court of Appeal.
In its decision, the Court of Appeal distinguished between core and non-core tasks and stated that an employer was not obliged to create a new role to accommodate an employee with a disability. The Court of Appeal determined that if an SNA was unable to perform 'essential duties', the school had not failed to reasonably accommodate them even though they had not sought to consult the employee before considering such accommodations.
In 2019, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal and confirmed that an employer may not distinguish between core and non-core tasks when considering reasonable accommodations for employees. An employer is instead required to take all 'appropriate measures' in facilitating a disabled employee. In essence, the Supreme Court has limited the potential burden on employers as they will not be forced to implement any measure that would constitute a 'disproportionate burden'. The Supreme Court stated that creating an entirely new role would amount to a disproportionate burden.
The Supreme Court also found that there was no mandatory duty on an employer to consult an employee when considering what adjustments could be put in place, but the Court heavily encouraged employers to actively engage with employees through this process as part of fair procedures.
While the decision is helpful in highlighting the applicable principles for employers to consider, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the extent of the burden of reasonable accommodation will depend on the specific facts of every case.
The Supreme Court also criticised the approach of the Labour Court for not considering all relevant evidence and providing reasons for its decision. The Supreme Court remitted the case to the Labour Court for a full rehearing.
KEARNEY V. BYRNE WALLACE6
This Court of Appeal case relates to the appropriate forum in which an employee can challenge a redundancy. While the UDA stipulates that the WRC is the appropriate body to bring such claims, this case was an appeal on the question of whether an employee could seek to challenge redundancy by securing injunctive relief before the High Court.
Mr Kearney had been with this employer from 2006 until 2017. During that time, he had taken extended periods of certified sick leave. In 2016, the employer referred Mr Kearney to an independent physician to assess his fitness to return to work. This physician, and Mr Kearney's own psychiatrist, concluded he was fit to return to work; however, his request to return to work was ignored. In 2017, Mr Kearney was informed that his previous role no longer existed and no other suitable role was available to him. Mr Kearney's employment was then terminated on the grounds of redundancy and he was given two months' notice in accordance with his contract of employment.
Mr Kearney argued that the letter purporting to terminate his employment was not a genuine redundancy and amounted to a sham. He sought an interlocutory injunction in the High Court to restrain his dismissal and require his employer to continue paying him as an employee. However, the primary matter in this case centred on whether Mr Kearney could bring the action before the High Court. In refusing to grant an interlocutory injunction, the High Court relied on the decision of Nolan v. Elmo Oil Services Limited,7 which distinguishes between cases in which a genuine redundancy exists but an employer fails to adhere to contractual notices, and cases in which there is a sham redundancy but the employer has observed all contractual notices and entitlements. The Nolan decision confirmed that in the latter case, where there is a statutory scheme available to a plaintiff (e.g., the WRC), the High Court has no role because injunctive relief can only be granted where there is a breach of contract.
Mr Kearney was also unsuccessful in his subsequent appeal to the Court of Appeal, which confirmed the Nolan case as being 'firmly embedded jurisprudence' in Ireland and therefore maintained the position that when an employer abides by all contractual obligations and fair procedures, it can avoid the granting of injunctive relief, although the prospect of an unfair dismissal claim remains.
iv Maternity leave and pregnancy discrimination
G4S SECURE SOLUTIONS LIMITED V. KELLY8
The complainant, Ms Karen Kelly, had been employed by G4S Secure Solutions Limited (G4S) since 2014 and, before going on maternity leave in 2017, she was primarily based at a client's offices in Swords, County Dublin, in accordance with her contract of employment. Shortly before returning to work from maternity leave, Ms Kelly was informed by her employer that the client had requested that she did not return to the offices in Swords. Her employer offered her an alternative position of a three-month contract working in its head office, which was later extended to a six-month contract. This alternative office was significantly further away from her home and necessitated a four-hour round trip rather than a 30-minute commute. Her employer did not make any other offers of suitable alternative positions. In April 2018, the employer stopped paying Ms Kelly and Ms Kelly requested her P45 in June 2018 (but it was not supplied at the time).
Ms Kelly brought a claim to the WRC under Irish employment equality legislation and argued that, had she not gone on maternity leave, it was likely she would have continued to work at the initial office on a permanent contract. She argued that her employer had discriminated against her by not allowing to her to return to the office stipulated in her contract of employment or providing a suitable alternative location. Ms Kelly had also initially worked on a permanent contract but was now only offered a fixed-term position.
The WRC decided that G4S had discriminated against Ms Kelly and awarded her approximately €11,000. Both parties appealed the decision to the Labour Court: Ms Kelly on the basis that she was not satisfied with the amount awarded by the WRC and G4S on the basis that it was not satisfied with the WRC's findings.
In the Labour Court, G4S argued that, among other things, it had a clause in its contracts with third parties that stipulated that a third party could dictate who could be assigned to the site and that this was superior to the statutory rights of Ms Kelly.
The Labour Court considered the relevant legislation,9 but rejected the arguments put forward by G4S. In particular, the Labour Court noted that a clause in a contract with a third party could never be 'superior to any statutory right'. While noting that an employer may offer an alternative contract, this is only where the new contract is suitable and appropriate for the employee and the contract is under terms and conditions that are not less favourable than the original contract. The Labour Court found that the new contract was on less favourable terms, as it was for a fixed term and at an alternative location with a significantly increased commute for Ms Kelly.
Ultimately, the Labour Court was satisfied that this was a discrimination-based dismissal and awarded approximately €51,000 in compensation, which the Labour Court said was 'proportionate, effective and dissuasive', having regard to the effects of the discrimination on Ms Kelly. This was also the maximum amount that the Labour Court could award.
Basics of entering into an employment relationship
i Employment relationship
Under the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994–2014 (the Terms of Employment Act), all employers are obliged, within two months of commencement of employment, to provide their employees with a written statement setting out certain fundamental terms of their employment:
- date of commencement of employment;
- full name and address of employer, and name of employee;
- the employee's place of work;
- the job title or a description of the nature of the work;
- if a temporary or fixed-term contract, the expiry date;
- pay, including overtime, commission and bonus, and methods of calculating these;
- whether pay is to be weekly, monthly or otherwise;
- the pay reference period;
- terms and conditions relating to hours of work and overtime;
- holiday or other paid leave entitlement;
- notice requirement;
- details of rest periods and breaks;
- details regarding sickness and sick pay;
- details of pensions and pension schemes; and
- reference to any applicable collective agreements.
The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018 (the 2018 Act) requires an employer to notify an employee of five core terms of employment within five days (as distinct from five business days) from the commencement of employment. The five core terms are:
- the identity of the employer and of the employee;
- the address of the employer;
- in the case of a temporary employment contract, its expected duration, or if the contract is for a fixed term, the date on which the contract expires;
- the rate or method of pay calculation, the intervals at which the employee is paid, and the pay reference period; and
- hours of work that the employer 'reasonably expects' the employee to work (per normal working day and working week). Notably, the phrase 'reasonably expects' was not defined in the 2018 Act.
This provision supplements, rather than replaces, an employer's existing obligations under the Terms of Employment Act, including the obligation to provide certain information to employees who are required to work outside Ireland for a period greater than one month.
The written statement and the notice of core terms must be signed and dated by or on behalf of the employer. It must also be retained by the employer during the employment and for one year after the employee's employment has ceased. Any change to the statutory particulars must be notified to the employee, in writing, within one month.
If either the written statement or the notice of core terms is not provided as required within one month of the commencement of employment, the employer will be liable for a criminal offence, resulting in a fine of up to €5,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 12 months (or both).
More generally, it is recommended that employers consider what other terms might be necessary and appropriate, and prepare comprehensive contracts. Other relevant terms will depend on the seniority of the employee, and will range from intellectual property and exclusivity of service provisions, to post-termination restrictive covenants. Any changes or amendments to the employment contract of a material nature can only be implemented, generally, with the agreement of both parties.
Separately, fixed-term contracts are permissible in Ireland and they are governed by the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003, which provides that when employees are employed on a series of fixed-term contracts, which exceed the aggregate period of four years, they may be entitled to a contract of indefinite duration.
ii Probationary periods
There is no Irish legislation that deals with probationary periods. Therefore, a probationary period will only be effective if expressly provided for. The terms of the probationary period, including duration, the length of notice and whether or not the employer has discretion to extend it, should be set out in the contract.
Although there is no statutory limit on how long an employee can be retained on probation, he or she will be covered by the UDA once 12 months' continuous service is accrued, which will include any period of notice of termination. Accordingly, the right to protection against unfair dismissal will apply once the 12-month service threshold has been reached, even if the employee is still on probation. Employers will therefore usually seek to conclude the probationary period before the employee completes 12 months' service.
iii Establishing a presence
An employer does not need to be registered as an entity or otherwise based in Ireland. In practice, and for varying tax and regulatory reasons, a large number of Irish employees across all sectors are employed by and report to foreign entities based outside Ireland. Similarly, it is also possible to hire employees through an agency without registering in Ireland.
However, foreign employer will be required to register for pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) income tax in Ireland when the income of its employees is within the scope of the Irish PAYE system. In addition to registration, the employer must deduct the amount of income tax due from its employees directly, and remit those amounts to the Revenue Commissioners. If, however, the foreign employer is engaging an independent contractor, the responsibility to pay the appropriate taxes lies with the independent contractor, not the foreign employer.
Income from non-Irish employment that is attributable to the performance in Ireland of the duties of that employment is also chargeable to Irish income tax and is within the scope of the PAYE system.
As regards mandatory benefits, as a minimum, an employer is required to provide its workforce with access to a Personal Retirement Savings Account within six months if it does not have a pension scheme available to its employees. There is also no obligation on the employer to make any contributions on an employee's behalf.
The Competition Act 2002–2017 (as amended) prohibits agreements between undertakings that prevent, restrict or distort competition. As employees are considered to be part of an undertaking and are not undertakings themselves, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) considers that employment agreements are not covered by the competition rules. However, once an employee leaves an employer and sets up his or her own business, he or she will then be regarded as an undertaking. The CCPC has set out guidelines as to what types of non-compete provisions, in particular, will be acceptable in such situations. Generally, they must be reasonable in subject matter, geographical scope and duration.
The common law is also of relevance to the issue of restrictive covenants. The basic position applied by the courts is that such covenants are, prima facie, unenforceable for being unduly in restraint of trade, unless the party seeking to rely on them can demonstrate that the restrictions in question are no more than what is strictly necessary to protect a legitimate business interest and are not otherwise contrary to the public interest.
i Working time
The OWTA deals with maximum working hours and other matters related to working time. Under the OWTA, an employer may not permit any employee to work for more than an average of 48 hours per week, although this can generally be averaged over four months. Working time should only take account of time spent working (i.e., it should exclude rest and meal breaks). The average period for night workers is two months; for employees working in agriculture and tourism it is six months; and it can be up to 12 months for employees covered by an approved collective agreement.
Employees cannot opt out of the 48-hour average working week. However, the legislation does provide a particular exemption for senior or specialist employees, who can be said to determine their own working time, such that they are not subject to the restriction. The contracts of such employees should expressly provide that they are exempt from this part of the OWTA.
Generally, there is no statutory entitlement to overtime under Irish law, or to payment for overtime. In certain cases, however, specific categories of workers may be entitled to overtime pay if covered by a sectoral employment order (SEO).
Those employees not covered by an SEO will only be entitled to paid overtime if such an entitlement is contained in their employment contract or has been established by custom and practice in the employment concerned. Section 14 of the OWTA provides that employers who require employees to work on Sundays are required to compensate them in accordance with Section 14, unless the employment contract specifies that the fact that the employee may be required to work on a Sunday is already taken into account in determining the salary.
European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and Swiss nationals do not require employment permits to work in Ireland. For non-EEA nationals, different types of employment permits are available depending on the circumstances. An employment permit will generally not be granted if the result in doing so means that more than 50 per cent of a company's employees are non-EEA nationals; however, there are some limited exceptions to this.
Intra-Company Transfer Employment Permits can be granted for senior management roles, key personnel or employees engaged in a training programme. Critical Skills Employment Permits (CSEPs) can be granted to individuals earning €60,000 (but this increases to €64,000 from 1 January 2020) or more, or if the role is listed on the Critical Skills Occupations List10 and the applicant has a relevant third-level degree, earning between €30,000 and €59,999 (but these increase to €32,000 and €63,999 from 1 January 2020). If an individual does not meet the criteria for either of the above permit types, a General Employment Permit is also available in certain circumstances, subject to a labour market needs test to ensure that there is no EEA or Swiss national available to fill the post.
Most employment permits can be granted for an initial period of up to two years, after which they can be renewed, if required. A CSEP can only be granted for a job offer for a minimum of two years, after which the holder may apply for a Stamp 4 permission to continue to work in the state without an employment permit.
There is no requirement to keep a register of foreign workers, but it is good practice to do so, in particular noting the expiry dates of employment permits or right to work documents to ensure that all employees have a valid permit or immigration permission in place. Once an employee is legally able to work in Ireland, he or she is entitled to the same statutory benefits and subject to tax as if he or she were originally from Ireland.
The Employment Permits Acts 2003–2014 apply significant penalties for employing non-EEA nationals without a valid employment permit. The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of up to a €250,000 or up to 10 years' imprisonment (or both).
The UDA requires employers to provide employees with a written disciplinary procedure, which can either form part of the contract of employment or be kept as a separate document. This information must be furnished to employees within 28 days of commencement of employment. While there is no specific form for this to take, it must at least adhere to the concept of natural justice and fair procedure as enshrined in the Irish Constitution. There is also a non-binding Code of Practice concerning grievance and disciplinary procedures in the workplace, which provides general guidelines in relation to the preparation and application of disciplinary procedures. While not obligatory, failure to apply the guidelines (in the absence of any other express procedure) could be held against an employer should an employee dispute his or her dismissal.
Employers are not required to obtain the approval of employees regarding the preparation or implementation of disciplinary procedures, although agreement in relation to these matters will often be obtained when collective bargaining takes place. A disciplinary policy must not discriminate against employees contrary to the Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015 (i.e., on one of the following nine grounds: gender, family status, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, religion, civil status or membership of the Traveller community), and must otherwise be fair and reasonable (i.e., provide that an employee is made aware of all the charges against him or her, is afforded a reasonable opportunity to rebut the charges and is afforded adequate representation throughout the process). Additionally, the level of sanctions should be staggered to reflect the seriousness of the offence. It will suffice for the disciplinary policy to be available on an employer's intranet, provided employees are made aware of this. If the employer does not have this facility, employees should be advised of where they can obtain a copy of the policy. The policy should generally, as a matter of best practice, be available in English and in any other language spoken by employees. Disciplinary procedures do not have to be filed with any state or government authority.
There are various forms of leave available to parents in Ireland, each affording particular rights and entitlements.
i Maternity leave
All female employees have a basic entitlement to take maternity leave of 26 consecutive weeks, regardless of their length of service. This basic entitlement may be extended if a baby is born prematurely.
There is no obligation on an employer to pay an employee on maternity leave, though many employers do offer to 'top up' maternity benefit to match an employee's normal remuneration. However, the employee may be entitled to social welfare payments, provided she has accrued sufficient pay-related social insurance contributions.
An employee is also entitled to 16 additional weeks of unpaid maternity leave. This additional leave carries no entitlement to social welfare payments.
An employee must give four weeks' notice in writing to the employer of her intention to take maternity leave. Employees are also entitled to paid time off during working hours for prenatal and postnatal medical appointments.
With the exception of the right to remuneration, all other employment rights are preserved during the course of the period of leave. This includes continuity of service and entitlements to other forms of leave, such as annual and sick leave.
Notice of termination of employment given during maternity leave is void. An employee has a right to return to the job held prior to going on maternity leave. If this is not reasonably practicable, the employer must provide suitable alternative work under a new contract of employment.
ii Adoptive leave
An adopting mother or sole adopting father is entitled to 24 weeks' adoptive leave. Employees availing of this leave may be entitled to receive social welfare payments, provided sufficient social insurance contributions have been paid. Employees are also entitled to additional unpaid adoptive leave for a further 16 weeks. No social welfare payments are payable in respect of that period.
Notice of termination of employment given during adoptive leave is void and, on return to work, the employee has a right to the job held prior to availing of adoptive leave, or to suitable alternative work if this is not reasonably practicable.
Adopting parents are entitled to paid time off work to attend preparation classes and pre-adoption meetings with social workers as required during the pre-adoption process.
iii Paternity leave
Employees who are fathers, or partners in same-sex relationships who have newly adopted a child, are entitled to take two consecutive weeks' paternity leave. This leave must be taken in a single block within 26 weeks of the date of birth of the child (or the date of placement in the case of adoption).
There is no obligation on an employer to pay an employee on paternity leave. However, the employee may be entitled to social welfare payments, provided sufficient pay-related social insurance contributions have been paid.
Notice of termination of employment given during paternity leave is void and, on return to work, the employee has a right to the job held prior to availing of paternity leave, or to suitable alternative work if this is not reasonably practicable.
iv Parental leave
Since 1 September 2019, parents are entitled to 22 weeks' parental leave in respect of a natural child, adopted child or child in respect of whom the employee acts in loco parentis. From 1 September 2020, this entitlement will increase to 26 weeks. This leave must be taken before the child reaches 12 years of age. This upper age limit can be extended in certain circumstances when an adopted child is involved. In the case of a child with a disability, leave may be taken up to the child reaching 16 years of age. There is no obligation on the employer to pay the employee during parental leave, nor is there any entitlement to social welfare payments during this time.
To qualify for parental leave, an employee must have completed one year of continuous service with the employer. However, if an employee has more than three months, but less than one year of continuous service, the employee may be entitled to parental leave for a period of one week for each month of continuous employment.
An employee is entitled to return to work at the end of a period of parental leave on the same terms and conditions held prior to availing of parental leave or, if this is not reasonably practicable, to suitable alternative employment. An employee has a right to request changes to his or her working hours or patterns for a set period of time following the return from parental leave. The request must be made in writing no later than six weeks before the commencement of the proposed set period. An employer must consider the request but is not obliged to grant the requested changes.
In addition to the rights outlined above, a parent returning from parental leave has the right to request a change in working patterns. An employer is not obliged to accede to this request, though they must consider it.
Employees are protected from dismissal in the same manner as with all other forms of leave, as outlined above.
v Parent's leave
This is a new form of leave, introduced in 2019 and governed by the Parent's Leave and Benefit Act 2019. Under this legislation, employees who are a 'relevant parent' (i.e., a parent of a child, a cohabitant, civil partner or spouse of a parent, an adopting parent or a cohabitant, civil partner or spouse of an adopting parent) and whose child was born or adopted on or after 1 November 2019, will be entitled to two weeks' leave, which may be taken in one continuous block or as two separate blocks. Parent's leave must be taken within 52 weeks of the birth of the child or the date of placement in the case of adoption. A relevant parent must give his or her employer at least six weeks' notice before the intended commencement of the parent's leave.
An employee is not entitled to be paid by an employer during parent's leave; however, an employee may be entitled to apply for a parent's leave benefit provided he or she has accrued sufficient pay-related social insurance contributions. An employer may choose to top up the parent's benefit in the same manner as other forms of leave.
If an employer is satisfied that the taking of leave would have a substantial adverse effect on the operation of his or her business, profession or occupation, the leave may be delayed by up to 12 weeks. An employer who postpones this leave must give the employee at least four weeks' notice of the intention to do so.
Employees are protected from dismissal in the same manner as with all other forms of leave, as outlined above.
There is no statutory requirement for employers to translate employment documents into other languages, and traditionally employers have provided these documents in English only. Best practice, however, and a decision of the Equality Tribunal (now the WRC) in 200811 suggests that it may be prudent to make these documents available in other languages, depending on the circumstances.
Although there is no clear direction on exactly which documents are required to be translated or explained, the Goode decision, and common sense, would dictate that this should be done in respect of documents such as the contract of employment and any documentation ancillary to it.
The Employment Equality Act 1998 (Code of Practice) (Harassment) Order 2012 is an example of an employment code and guidelines building on the Goode decision. The Code of Practice outlines that employers should ensure that staff have access to equality policies, including by means of certain measures 'to provide, where necessary, for the translation of policies and procedures into languages other than English as appropriate with provision of interpreters'.
If documents are not translated or explained to an employee, the employer faces the risk of discrimination claims, under which the employee can be awarded up to two years' gross remuneration.
The concept of employee representation under Irish law relates to both unionised and non-unionised employees, and is derived from a number of sources (statutory and otherwise).
i Trade union representation
Any employee has the right to join a trade union, although trade unions may not legally compel employers to recognise and negotiate with them. The degree to which trade unions may embark upon industrial action (either to try to gain recognition from employers, or for any other reason) is regulated principally by the Industrial Relations Act 1990. The method of appointing employee representatives is done by way of secret ballot.
ii Information and consultation representation
In addition to any local representation arrangements that may exist (whether with trade unions or otherwise), employees may also be entitled to representation in certain circumstances as a matter of statute. This form of representation can arise in a transfer of undertakings, collective redundancy situations or when the employees are covered by a local or European-level works council.
The Transnational Information and Consultation of Employees Act 1996 (as amended) (which implemented Council Directive 94/45/EC on the establishment of a European works council) (the 1996 Act) requires multinational employers of a certain size to set up European works councils to inform and consult their employees on a range of management issues relating to transnational developments within the organisation. The 1996 Act applies to undertakings with at least 1,000 employees in the European Union and 150 or more employees in each of at least two Member States. A special negotiating body (SNB) is established in accordance with the 1996 Act to negotiate with the employer. The duration and functions of the SNB will be subject to the terms and purpose of the works council agreement put in place. The Employees (Provision of Information and Consultation) Act 2006 obliges employers with at least 50 employees to enter into a written agreement with employees or their elected representatives, setting down formal procedures for informing and consulting them. The legislation will only apply if a prescribed minimum number of employees request it. The legislation is silent on how employee representatives are elected, and it will be up to the employees to determine how this is conducted, but usually it is done by way of secret ballot. The purpose of their role and how they conduct themselves will be subject to their own agreement.
The Employment Equality Acts provide that no employee should be discriminated against for being a trade union member. Further, all the above legislation specifically provides that no employee representative should be penalised for carrying out his or her function as an employee representative.
Employee representation (protected concerted activity)
i General principles
Issues regarding the keeping and disclosing of personal data relating to employees are governed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the DPA 2018. Under the GDPR, an employer established in Ireland that gathers, stores and processes any data about employees in any computerised or structured manual filing system is deemed to be a controller of that data.
Controllers must follow eight fundamental data protection rules:
- obtain and process information lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner;
- only keep the information for one or more specified, explicit and legitimate purposes;
- process the information only in ways compatible with these purposes;
- ensure the information is processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data, including protection against unauthorised or unlawful processing, and against accidental loss, destruction or damage, using appropriate technical and organisational measures;
- keep the information accurate, complete and up to date;
- ensure that the information is adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which it is processed;
- retain the information for no longer than is necessary; and
- be responsible for and demonstrate compliance with the above principles.
When collecting personal data from an employee, the controller is required to provide certain information to the employee, including:
- the identity and contact details of the controller;
- the contact details of the data protection officer (if applicable);
- the purposes of the processing and the legal basis for the processing;
- the recipients or categories of recipient to which personal data has been disclosed;
- the safeguards provided by the employer if it transfers personal data to a third country or international organisation;
- the period for which personal data will be stored;
- the existence of the various data subject rights;
- the employee's right to request rectification, erasure or restriction, or to object to this processing;
- the right to lodge a complaint with the Data Protection Commission (DPC);
- the existence of automated decision-making, including profiling (if applicable); and
- information about the source of the data, if not obtained directly from the employee.
In practice, some of this information may be provided in the employer's privacy notice.
Employees have a number of rights under the GDPR, including the right (subject to certain exceptions) to obtain a copy of any personal data relating to them that is kept on the employer's computer system or in a structured manual filing system by any person in the organisation.
The GDPR does not specify how to make a valid request, so it may be done verbally or in writing, and employers must respond to the request within one calendar month of receipt of the request. The right to access personal data does not apply if that access would adversely affect the rights and freedoms of others.
Under the GDPR, all public bodies and authorities (other than courts acting in their judicial capacity) are mandated to have a data protection officer (DPO), as well as any employer whose core activities consist of:
- data processing operations that, by virtue of their nature, scope and purposes, require regular and systematic monitoring of employees on a large scale; or
- data processing on a large scale of the special categories of data and data relating to criminal convictions.
Where appointment of a DPO is not mandatory but one is appointed through choice, the organisation will be subject to the same provisions set out in the GDPR as though the appointment was mandatory. A DPO may be a member of staff at an appropriate level, part-time or full-time, a person external to the organisation or one shared by a group of organisations, provided that the person has the required expertise and that any other role that may be held in the organisation does not give rise to a conflict of interest with the DPO role.
Details of DPOs must be registered with the DPC and published to relevant individuals (including employees and other data subjects).
ii Cross-border data transfers
Ireland, like other EU Member States, restricts the transfer of personal data from Ireland to jurisdictions outside the EEA that do not 'ensure an adequate level of protection', unless the transfer meets one of a number of conditions, including, but not limited to, the following:
- the transfer is pursuant to the standard contractual clauses that have been specifically adopted by the European Commission for international transfers of data;
- the transfer is to an entity that is subject to the US–EU Privacy Shield Program operated by the US Department of Commerce; or
- the transfer is pursuant to binding corporate rules put in place within the employer's group and approved by the DPC (or another relevant lead supervisory authority).
iii Special categories of personal data
The GDPR defines special categories of personal data to include data concerning racial or ethnic origin, political opinion, religious or philosophical beliefs, or trade union membership, and genetic data, biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying an individual, or data concerning health, or sexual life or sexual orientation. Special categories of personal data may not be processed by an employer except in very limited circumstances (e.g., when the processing of health data is required to assess the working capacity of an employee). The processing of data relating to criminal convictions and offences may only be carried out under the control of official authority and subject to other conditions set out in the DPA 2018.
iv Background checks
Employers can carry out a number of background checks on applicants for employment. These can include reference checks, credit-history checks, education verification, verification of entitlement to work in Ireland and a pre-employment medical assessment. Before carrying out any background checks, the resulting data must be relevant to the individual's role and the employer will need to have established a lawful basis under the GDPR to obtain and process the data. In respect of any method used to verify a prospective employee's background, it should be ensured that the method is applied consistently to all applicants, and is not discriminating on any one of the nine grounds protected by the Employment Equality Acts (see Section VIII). The ability to process criminal data is greatly restricted by the GDPR and the DPA 2018. As noted in Section XII.iii, the processing of data relating to criminal convictions and offences may only be carried out under the control of official authority and subject to other conditions set out in the DPA 2018.
An employer can, at common law, terminate the employment contract without cause, provided this is done in accordance with its terms. If a term of the contract is breached, however, this can give rise to a claim for damages at common law, or even to a claim for injunctive relief in certain circumstances. Notwithstanding any express contractual right to terminate, employees are afforded statutory protection against unfair or discriminatory dismissal. Under the UDA, an employer cannot lawfully dismiss an employee unless substantial grounds exist to justify termination. Also, it is essential for an employer to be able to establish that fair procedures have been followed before making a decision to dismiss. Subject to certain exceptions, employees must have accrued at least 12 months' continuous service to qualify for protection under the UDA.
To justify a dismissal, an employer must generally be able to show that it resulted wholly or mainly from one or more of the following grounds:
- the capability, competence or qualifications of the employee for the work concerned;
- the conduct of the employee;
- the redundancy of the employee; or
- the employee being prohibited by law from working or continuing to work (e.g., not holding a valid work permit where one is required).
If the dismissal is not because of any of the grounds listed above, there must be some other substantial grounds to justify it. If an employee believes that he or she has been unfairly dismissed, he or she may bring a claim to the WRC. An adjudicator can award redress in the form of compensation (subject to a maximum of two years' remuneration), reinstatement or re-engagement.
A dismissal is automatically deemed unfair under the UDA if an employee can show that his or her dismissal was wholly or mainly attributable to one of the following:
- membership or proposed membership of a trade union or engaging in trade union activities;
- religious or political opinions;
- legal proceedings against an employer in which an employee is a party or a witness;
- race, colour, sexual orientation, age or membership of the Traveller community;
- pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding or any other matters connected with pregnancy or birth;
- making a protected disclosure under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014; or
- the exercise or proposed exercise by the employee of the right to parental leave, force majeure leave, carer's leave, maternity leave, adoptive leave, paternity leave or parent's leave.
If an employee alleges that he or she has been dismissed in a discriminatory manner (i.e., on one of the nine grounds upon which discrimination is prohibited by the Employment Equality Acts; see Section VIII), he or she may bring a claim before the WRC, and subsequently before the Labour Court on appeal. Either of these bodies may award compensation (subject to a maximum of two years' gross remuneration, depending on the claim) or reinstatement. In gender discrimination cases, a claim may be made directly to the Circuit Court, which can, in theory, award unlimited compensation. There is no minimum service threshold for an employee to be covered by this legislation.
Once in continuous employment for at least 13 weeks, an employee is entitled to a minimum period of statutory notice of termination. The minimum length of the notice period will depend on the employee's length of service (although greater periods of notice can be provided for by contract):
- between 13 weeks and two years' service: one week's notice;
- between two years' and five years' service: two weeks' notice;
- between five years' and 10 years' service: four weeks' notice;
- between 10 years' and 15 years' service: six weeks' notice; and
- 15 years' or more service: eight weeks' notice.
An employee may waive the right to notice and accept payment in lieu of notice. Alternatively, the contract can stipulate a right to pay in lieu of notice. An employer may dismiss an employee without notice or payment in lieu of notice if the employee has fundamentally breached the employment contract amounting to a repudiation of the employment contract, or if they are guilty of gross misconduct.
To settle a dispute, including a redundancy situation, compromise or claim, the parties can enter into a settlement agreement. For the settlement agreement to be enforced, as a matter of contract law, the employee must receive something over and above what they might otherwise be entitled to. The employee should also be advised in writing and given the opportunity to obtain independent legal advice in relation to the terms of the agreement.
The Protection of Employment Act 1977 must be complied with when an employer intends to implement collective redundancies. Collective redundancy occurs when, within a period of 30 days, the number of such dismissals is:
- at least five in an establishment employing more than 20, but fewer than 50 employees;
- at least 10 in an establishment employing at least 50, but fewer than 100 employees;
- at least 10 per cent of the number of employees at an establishment employing at least 100, but fewer than 300 employees; and
- at least 30 in an establishment employing 300 or more employees.
When collective redundancies are proposed, the employer must first enter into consultation with employee representatives, a trade union or a works council, with a view to reaching an agreement in relation to matters such as the possibility of avoiding or reducing the numbers to be made redundant and the criteria to be used in selecting employees for redundancy. The consultation must commence at least 30 days before notice of the first redundancy is issued. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection must also be notified at least 30 days in advance of the first notice of termination by reason of redundancy being confirmed.
The Protection of Employment (Exceptional Collective Redundancies and Related Matters) Act 2007 established a redundancy panel to which employees or employers may refer certain proposed collective redundancies for an opinion and possible Labour Court hearing in circumstances where it is alleged that the dismissed employees will be replaced by new employees on lesser terms and conditions of employment. Should such a finding be made and the employer proceeds with the redundancies nonetheless, it will be exposed to significantly increased liabilities, inter alia, if claims are brought by the dismissed employees under the UDA.
Although there is no express statutory form of consultation required for individual redundancies, it is best practice to do so. In this regard, it is also recommended that employers make at least some effort to locate an alternative position for the employee, if possible. As with any other form of dismissal (other than in cases of gross misconduct), notice of termination by reason of redundancy or payment in lieu thereof must be given.
It is also possible, when concluding the redundancy process, to enter into a compromise agreement with the employee, whereby he or she would be paid an ex gratia payment in return for him or her waiving his or her rights and entitlement to bringing any claim against the employer.
Any employee who is on protected leave (e.g., maternity or paternity leave) cannot be made redundant, and the employer will have to wait until he or she returns before engaging with him or her on the issue.
Transfer of business
The European Communities (Protection of Employees on Transfer of Undertakings) Regulations 2003 (the Regulations) apply in circumstances where there is any transfer of an undertaking, business or part of an undertaking or business from one employer to another employer as a result of a legal transfer or merger. The Regulations include an assignment or forfeiture of a lease. Outsourcing of a service has also constituted a transfer within the meaning of the Regulations. The Regulations apply to any transfer within the European Union, although the UK case Holis Metal Industries Limited v. GMB & Newell Limited12 suggests that they might also apply to transfers outside the European Union or EEA, in respect at least of the obligations of the party to the transfer located within the European Union. This extraterritorial aspect of the Regulations is particularly relevant in the context of outsourcing. The importance of the Regulations and the need to assess carefully whether they apply in any given situation cannot be underestimated.
Transfer is defined as 'the transfer of an economic entity which retains its identity'. When a transfer within the meaning of the Regulations occurs, the acquiring party will be obliged to employ the employees of the disposing party on terms and conditions no less favourable than those previously enjoyed by them, and with their prior service intact. A lapse in time between the transferor ceasing business and the transferee resuming the business does not necessarily prevent there being a transfer of the business for the purposes of the Regulations. In assessing whether or not the Regulations apply, consideration must be given to the type of business concerned, whether there has been a transfer of assets, whether any employees have been transferred, whether customers have transferred and to what extent the activity carried on before and after the transfer is similar.
When a transfer is taking place, it is important that the transferor and transferee take steps to ensure that the employees are informed in advance. In practice, employee representatives must be informed of the reasons for the transfer and the legal, economic and social implications of the transfer for the employees, and also of any measures that are envisaged in relation to the employees. This information must be communicated at least 30 days in advance of the transfer, where possible, to enable the representatives to be consulted in relation to any measures concerning the employees. The obligation to consult only occurs where there are measures envisaged in relation to the employees.
The Regulations do make provisions for transfer-related dismissals when the dismissals are because of economic, technical or organisational reasons that result in changes in the workforce. However, this defence is generally only available to the transferee. This makes it difficult for employers to implement changes before the sale of their business to make the business more attractive to prospective purchasers.
With regard to breaches of the Regulations, employees may bring complaints to the WRC, with a right of appeal to the Labour Court.
It is expected that the Irish economy will continue to perform strongly in 2020, with unemployment levels reaching record lows. It also expected that the high level of foreign direct investment into Ireland will continue in 2020. However, all the commentary is indicating that Brexit will have a significant impact on the Irish economy.
We expect to see the WRC increasing its focus on more targeted, industry-specific workplace inspections during the course of 2020. However, the general aim of the WRC in carrying out inspections is to promote a culture of compliance and to educate employers on their legislative obligations rather than to prosecute employers.
With effect from 1 September 2020, parental leave will increase from 22 weeks to 26 weeks unpaid leave per child (once certain additional conditions are satisfied). This is part of a series of family-friendly initiatives in recent years, which is expected to continue.
We expect the draft gender pay gap reporting legislation, the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill, to continue working its way through the Irish legislative process. Although the bill is still at a relatively early stage in the legislative process and is likely to be subject to further amendments, many employers have already started to prepare for its introduction.
The legislative scheme underpinning the Central Bank's proposed Senior Executive Accountability Regime (SEAR), and the broader Individual Accountability Regime, is expected to be published in the near future, following which the Central Bank will engage in a public consultation on the new regime. Once introduced, SEAR is likely to have a significant impact on the hiring of employees and management in the financial services sector.
While all the above legislative proposals will technically fall away as a result of a planned election in February 2020, it is expected that the incoming government will take over these legislative proposals, which will lead to further amendments.
1 Bryan Dunne is a partner and Colin Gannon is an associate solicitor at Matheson.
2  IECA 346.
3  20 ELR 109.
4  IEHC 272.
5  IESC 63.
6  IECA 206.
7  IEHC 15.
9 Section 6 of the Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015 and Sections 26 and 27 of the Maternity Protection Act 1994.
10 This is a list that is reviewed twice yearly by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and lists occupations that have been identified as being in shortage in the local labour market in Ireland.
11 58 Named Complainants v. Goode Concrete Limited (DEC-E2008-020). It was held that employers should have in place clear procedures to ensure non-Irish employees are able to understand their employment documentation and are not treated less favourably than Irish employees. The Equality Officer also found that if an employer is not in a position to have these documents translated, it should arrange to have the contracts and other documentation explained to all employees by someone who speaks a language they understand, with the employee signing a form acknowledging that the contract has been explained to them and that they understand its contents.
12  ICR 464.