Looking Ahead 2024: Ireland
Several employment benefit laws take effect this 2024 in Ireland. The following are the benefit laws and how they will affect employers and employees.
1. STATUTORY SICK PAY SCHEME
The Sick Leave Act 2022 came into force in January 2023 (on a phased basis). On 1 January 2024, the leave entitlement increased from 3 days to 5 days. It is intended to increase to 7 days in 2025 and 10 days in 2026.
Statutory sick pay is provided to all employees at a rate of 70% of their wage, but subject to a daily threshold of €110 per day. It is expected that this maximum cap may change and be amended over time to take account of changes in income and inflation. It applies to all employees with continuous service of 13 weeks or more.
Employers who already operate a sick leave scheme are exempt from the obligations provided under the Act where they can show that the company benefits are as favourable or more favourable than the statutory entitlement.
2. PROTECTED DISCLOSURES
Since 17 December 2023, employers with 50+ employees are legally obliged to have internal reporting channels and procedures for the making of a protected disclosure. This statutory obligation, which has applied to employers with 250+ employees since 1 January 2023, requires employers to (i) establish secure and confidential internal reporting channels for receiving protected disclosures; (ii) acknowledge receipt of the disclosure within seven days; and (iii) appoint a designated person(s) within the organisation for this role who will provide feedback to the discloser and keep the discloser informed of the progress of the investigation and the outcome no later than three months from receipt of the disclosure. A failure to establish, maintain, and operate the reporting channels and procedures may lead to significant fines and penalties being imposed on the employer.
The Act sets out in detail how the internal reporting channels and procedures should operate, which are quite prescriptive. In summary, employers are required to:
- ensure that secure channels are in place for receiving protected disclosures
- acknowledge receipt of the disclosure within seven days
- appoint a designated person or persons within an organisation for this role who will provide feedback to the discloser and keep the discloser informed of the progress of the investigation and the outcome no later than three months from receipt of the disclosure.
A failure to establish, maintain, and operate the reporting channels and procedures may lead to significant fines and penalties being imposed.
In practical terms, grievances and complaints need to be carefully considered to ensure that those complaints are being considered under the correct procedures. A protected disclosure does not need to be in writing, and can be verbal, and does not necessarily need to identify the employee at the time of reporting a wrongdoing, so employers need to be aware of complaints received and the potential for such complaints to constitute a protected disclosure.
3. GENDER PAY GAP (GPG)
The Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021 (No. 20 of 2021) came into operation on 31 May 2022.
In June 2022, employers with 250 (or more) employees were required to choose a ‘Snapshot’ date within that month to prepare a report on the gender pay gap for the employees in their company and to publish that report in December 2022 and 2023.
GPG reporting initially applies to public and private sector organisations of 250 employees or more on the Snapshot date in 2022 and 2023, but the scope is set to be widened to organisations with over 150 employees in 2024. In 2025, it will apply to all organisations with over 50 employees.
Employers are required to publish a statement setting out, in the employers’ opinion, the reasons for the gender pay gap in their company and what measures are being taken or proposed to be taken by the employer to eliminate or reduce that pay gap.
- Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023
This Act was signed into law on 4 April 2023. The provisions of the Act are being introduced on a phased basis. Certain provisions, such as medical care leave, maternity leave access, and breastfeeding entitlements were introduced in July 2023. Domestic violence leave came into force in November 2023. It is expected that the right to request remote and flexible working will be introduced in early 2024.
Right to Request Remote Working – Under the Act, all employees will have the right to request remote working, it seems, regardless of job type. It is expected that a Code of Practice (not yet published) will be established on a statutory footing and that this Code will include guidance to employers and employees on their obligations. It is expected that the Workplace Relations Commission will publish this Code of Practice at the end of January 2024. Once published, when considering remote working requests, employers will be required to have regard to the Code, in addition to its businesses’ needs and the employees’ needs. It is anticipated that where an employer fails to comply with the Code of Practice or legislation, an employee may bring a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission. An employee must have six months’ continuous service with their employer and submit a request at least eight weeks prior to the intended start date of the arrangement. An employer should deliver their decision within four weeks of receiving the request, which can be extended to eight weeks in certain circumstances. If the request is refused, reasons for the refusal must be given.
Flexible Working – the Act introduces the right to request flexible working arrangements for caring purposes of parents and carers. This right will apply to employees who have six months’ continuous service with their employer. This right will come into effect following the publication of a Code of Practice, as referred to above.
5. PARENT’S LEAVE
It was announced in the Irish Government’s Budget 2024 that Parent’s Leave and Parent’s Benefit will be extended from 7 weeks to 9 weeks of leave starting August 2024. Parent’s leave is available to employees who are a “relevant parent” (e.g., a parent or adopting parent of a child or a spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the parent of the child or a spouse or civil partner of the adopting parent of the child) and whose child was born or adopted on or after 1 November 2019. Parent’s leave is available to each parent and there is no minimum length of service requirement for Parent’s leave. The leave, which may be taken in one continuous block or as two separate blocks (of no less than one week), must be taken within the first 2 years of the child’s birth or adoption. There is no obligation on the employer to pay an employee on parent’s leave but an employee may be entitled to the State Parent’s benefit, provided the employee has sufficient Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) contributions.
Parent’s leave increased from 5 weeks to 7 weeks for children born or adopted after 1 July 2022. Employees can claim the additional 2 weeks’ parent’s leave if their child was under the age of 2 on 1 July 2022 or if their adopted child had been placed with their family for less than 2 years on 1 July 2022. It is envisaged that a similar structure will apply when the extension to 9 weeks occurs in August 2024.
6. PENSIONS (AUTO ENROLMENT)
On 29 March 2022, the Minister for Social Protection announced the details of the Automatic Enrolment Retirement Savings System for Ireland, which is to operate on an ‘opt-out’ rather than an ‘opt-in’ basis. The Minister for Social Protection recently announced that the draft legislation providing for a pension’s auto-enrolment scheme in Ireland is expected to be published in early 2024, and that it will progress through the legislative process immediately thereafter, and that the first enrolments are expected to begin in the latter half of 2024. Auto-enrolment is expected to be gradually phased in over a decade, with both employer and employee contributions starting at 1.5% and increasing every three years by 1.5% until reaching 6% by 2034.
The final design principles of the scheme were published in March 2022 and provide that the employer should match the employee contributions up to a maximum of €80,000 of earnings, and the State will provide a corresponding top-up of €1 for every €3 saved by the employee up to a maximum of €80,000, i.e., for every €3 saved by an employee, a further €4 will be credited to their pension savings account between the employer and the State contribution. All employees who are not already in an occupational pension scheme, aged between 23 and 60 and earning over €20,000, will be automatically enrolled.
7. EMPLOYMENT PERMITS SYSTEM
On 20 December 2023, the largest ever expansion was announced with respect to the employment permit system in Ireland. The main changes include 11 roles added to the Critical Skills Occupations List, 32 roles made eligible for a General Employment Permit, the salary threshold for a number of employment permits to be increased on 17 January 2024 as well as existing quotas for certain roles to be extended with effect on 17 January 2024. A roadmap for increasing salary thresholds for all types of employment permits was also announced, with further increases expected in 2025.
8. CODE OF PRACTICE ON DETERMINING EMPLOYMENT STATUS TO BE UPDATED FOLLOWING KARSHAN DECISION
In our November 2023 Employment Law Tracker, we discussed the significant case of Karshan (Midlands) Ltd (trading as Domino’s Pizza) (“Karshan”) where the Supreme Court of Ireland ruled that Dominos’ delivery drivers were employees as opposed to independent contractors and laid down a new 5-step test for the purposes of determining the status of a worker.
The Revenue Commissioners of Ireland (“Revenue”) have confirmed that following this decision, the Code of Practice on Determining Employment Status (the “Code) will be updated in collaboration with the Department of Social Protection (“DSP”) and the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”). The Code sets out the key characteristics that are used to inform decisions on employment status by the DSP, Revenue, and the WRC. Revenue have also confirmed that separate guidelines on the judgement and its impact on the employment status of individuals for tax purposes will be published in early 2024.