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Employment Law Overview Ireland

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Employment Law Overview Ireland

Introduction

This guide is intended to be a brief overview of employment laws in the Republic of Ireland and is not intended to apply in a specific situation.  Legal advice should be obtained before taking any action based on the information provided.

Employment law in Ireland is governed by common law, an extensive statutory framework (some of which has its origins in European Union law) and a range of fundamental rights protected by the Constitution of Ireland.

In Ireland, the core documentation governing the employment relationship in practice is (i) a written contract of employment (which is common at all levels and across all sectors) and (ii) an employee handbook containing company/HR policies (which is typically provided to employees in conjunction with the contract of employment).

Key Points

Probationary periods in the private sector cannot exceed 6 months, save for exceptional circumstances such as where it is ‘in the interest of the employee’ or where an employee is absent during the probationary period.

Employees in Ireland have a wide range of protections under applicable legislation including protection from unfair or discriminatory dismissal, protection from penalisation or dismissal on the grounds of having made a ‘protected disclosure’ (i.e. a whistleblowing complaint) and protection against unlawful deductions of wages by an employer.

Irish law places significant emphasis on fair procedures being afforded to employees (e.g. right to know the case against him/her, a right to reply, a right to a fair and impartial hearing), particularly in the context of conduct-related dismissals.

Statutory employment law claims and disputes are dealt with through statutory forums (namely, the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) or the Labour Court (on appeal)), which sit outside the civil courts system in Ireland.

The forms of statutory leave available to parents include maternity leave, adoptive leave, paternity leave, parent’s leave and parental leave.  There is no obligation on the employer to pay employees during these leave periods but a State benefit is available in most cases.

A statutory sick pay scheme was introduced, for the first time in Ireland, on 1 January 2023.

Trade union membership in Ireland is relatively low (particularly amongst multinationals). Unions are generally more prevalent in the public sector than in the private sector.

European and local level works councils are provided for under statute but, in practice, works councils are rare in Ireland.

The Irish government has proposed introducing a pensions auto-enrolment scheme in 2024.

Employment law in Ireland is governed by common law, an extensive statutory framework (some of which has its origins in European Union law) and a range of fundamental rights protected by the Constitution of Ireland.

Employment rights can be enforced in Ireland in a statutory forum namely, the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) or the Labour Court (on appeal) or in 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 common law (e.g. a breach of contract claim, which would be dealt with by a civil court) or statute (e.g. a claim for unfair dismissal under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977-2015, which would be dealt with by the WRC at first instance).

The WRC and Labour Court, which sit outside the civil courts system in Ireland, have their own rules and procedures separate from the civil court system in Ireland.

New Developments

European Union (Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions) Regulations 2022 (the “Regulations”)The Regulations, which were signed into law in Ireland in December 2022, introduced additional protections for workers in the ‘gig economy’ and made other significant changes applicable to all employers in Ireland.  At a high-level, the main changes introduced by the Regulations are as follows:

  • The maximum probationary period in the public sector cannot exceed 12 months (see III, 4 ‘Trial Period’). The maximum probationary period in the private sector cannot exceed 6 months, save for exceptional circumstances such as where it is ‘in the interest of the employee’ or where an employee is absent during the probationary period (see III, 4 ‘Trial Period’).
  • Employers in Ireland are no longer permitted to restrict employees from having a second job unless the restriction is proportionate and justified on objective grounds.  The Regulations helpfully set out a non-exhaustive list of such objective grounds (e.g., protection of business confidentiality, health and safety, compliance with laws).  Many employers will likely be able to identify at least one objective ground to assist in limiting parallel employment.  Importantly, both the restriction and its justification must be included in the employment contract or statement of terms provided to the employee, or in a separate written statement.
  • A range of new terms and conditions of employment must now be included in an employee’s written statement of terms of employment that must be provided within 5 working days of commencing employment e.g., information on remuneration, place of work, nature/description of work, and date of commencement of the contract.  Other additional information must be included in an employee’s written statement of terms of employment and provided to the employee within one month (previously two months).  On a separate but related note, where changes are made to the written statement of employment provided to an employee, employers are now required to notify the employee in writing of the nature and date of any change no later than the day on which such change happens.
  • Employers in Ireland, who are required by law or by a collective agreement, to provide training to an employee for their role, must provide that training without cost as part of the employee’s working time and during working hours, where possible.
  • An employee who has been in the continuous service of an employer for at least six months and who has completed their probationary period may request a form of employment with more predictable and secure working conditions, if available.  Employers must consider these requests and provide a reasoned response to the employee if the request is not successful.  A request can then be submitted every 12 months, if refused. Subsequent employer responses can be verbal, subject to certain conditions.

Statutory Sick Leave: A statutory sick pay scheme came into effect, for the first time in Ireland, on 1 January 2023.  Employees who have at least 13 continuous weeks’ service with their employer are now entitled to up to 3 days statutory sick leave per calendar year.  Statutory sick leave is paid at a rate of 70% of normal pay, subject to a daily maximum of €110.  A medical certificate from a registered medical practitioner is required for each day of sick leave. The number of statutory sick leave days is expected to increase to five days in 2024, seven days in 2025 and to 10 days in 2026.

As employers are not prohibited from having more generous sick pay schemes than the statutory minimum requirements set out above, employers can and do often supplement statutory sick pay with company sick pay for a specified period (which varies depending on the company, industry/sector, etc.).

Updated Protected Disclosures Legislation: Ireland’s protected disclosures/whistleblowing framework, which has been in place since 2014, was substantially overhauled by the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act 2022, which came into operation on 1 January 2023 (See 6. Whistle-blower Laws).  One of the key changes under the new legislation is that, with effect from 1 January 2023, private sector employers with 250 (or more) employees are now obliged to establish internal reporting channels and procedures for the making of protected disclosures.  Similarly, public bodies and organisations in certain sectors are required to have the reporting channels and procedures in place from 1 January 2023 (such sectors include financial services, products and markets and the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing, transport safety and the protection of the environment).  Private sector employers with between 50 and 249 employees have until 17 December 2023 to establish the reporting channels and procedures.

Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023: This legislation transposes an EU Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers and introduces some significant new rights aimed at allowing employees to improve their work-life balance, family life and caring responsibilities.  The main points of the legislation are summarised below.  However, please note that, while the legislation was signed into law in April 2023, at the time of writing, the substantive changes under the legislation have not yet been brought into force.

  • a right to request remote working for all employees. The legislation sets out a statutory process for an employee to follow when making such a request, and for an employer to follow when dealing with such a request.  A code of practice on the right to request remote working will be published by the WRC and, once published, employers will be required to have regard to the code, the businesses’ needs and the employees’ needs when considering remote working requests.
  • a right to request flexible working arrangements for parents and carers for caring purposes e.g. an adjustment to an employee’s working hours or patterns, including through the use of remote working arrangements, flexible working schedules or reduced working hours. The legislation sets out a statutory process for an employee to follow when making such a request, and for an employer to follow when dealing with such a request.
  • the introduction of 5 days of paid leave per year for those who are suffering or at risk of domestic violence (see Any Other Required or Typically Provided Leaves);
  • the introduction of 5 days of unpaid leave per year to provide care or support for a relevant or person living in the household of the employee (see Any Other Required or Typically Provided Leaves);
  • the extension of breastfeeding break entitlements of eligible employees from 6 months to 2 years;
  • and amendments to afford protection under the Maternity Protection Acts to legally recognise transgender males who become pregnant.

Pensions Auto-enrolment: At the time of writing, there is currently no pensions auto-enrolment scheme in Ireland, but the Irish government is proposing to introduce such a scheme in 2024.  The General Scheme of the Automatic Enrolment Retirement Savings Systems Bill 2022 (which is the draft legislation) outlines how it is intended that the new scheme will operate.  At the time of writing, it is proposed that, where an employee does not have an occupational pension, he/she will be automatically enrolled in the new scheme, with options to leave the scheme or ‘opt out’ under certain conditions.  This is, however, subject to change as the draft legislation goes through the legislative process in Ireland.

Pay Transparency:  The EU recently adopted a new directive on Pay Transparency, which came into force on 7 June 2023, and which must be implemented into national law by EU Member States (including Ireland) within three years (i.e. by June 2026).  Among other things, the directive sets out minimum standards regarding pay transparency that EU Member States are required to implement in terms of:

  • a gender pay gap reporting regime (which already exists in Ireland as of 2022) across the EU;
  • a ban on contractual terms that restrict employees from disclosing information about their pay;
  • and a ban on employers asking job candidates about their pay history and their existing salary.

In addition, job seekers will also have certain new information rights under the directive (e.g. employers will be obliged to disclose the initial pay level or range in the job advert or before the job interview) as will existing employees (who will have the right to request information from their employer on their individual pay level and on the average pay levels, broken down by gender, for employees doing the same work or work of equal value).

While Ireland already has existing gender pay gap reporting legislation, new legislation will need to be introduced in due course by the Irish government to ensure that the gender pay gap regime complies with the new directive and to ensure that the other additional measures prescribed in the directive are implemented into Irish law by the relevant deadline.

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