Every employee in Ireland has an employment contract (whether it is express or implied).
Employers in Ireland are required by statute to provide employees with a written statement of certain key terms and conditions of employment within five days of commencement of employment and, separately, within one month of commencement of employment.
In practice, most employers in Ireland comply with the statutory requirements above by providing an employment contract at the outset of the employment relationship that contains the mandatory information together with more comprehensive terms and conditions covering matters such as post-termination restrictions, data protection, confidentiality and intellectual property.
Many employees in Ireland are employed on a full-time basis under contracts of indefinite duration (although they may be terminated on notice). Other common categories of employee include fixed-term employees, part-time employees and agency workers, all of whom have certain protections, rights and entitlements under Irish law. ‘Zero-hours contracts’ are generally prohibited by law in Ireland except where the work is (a) done in an emergency situation; (b) done to cover routine absences on a short-term basis; or (c) of a casual nature.
A fixed-term worker is defined as a person who enters into an employment contract directly with an employer, where the end of the contract is determined by an objective condition e.g. completion of a particular task, the occurrence of a particular event or arriving at a specific date.
The maximum duration for which a fixed-term employee can be employed on successive fixed-term contracts is four years, unless there are objective grounds justifying the renewal of the fixed-term contract.
A fixed-term worker has certain rights and entitlements under Irish law including a statutory entitlement to be treated no less favourably than comparable permanent employees unless such treatment can be objectively justified (i.e. based on considerations other than the status of the employee as a fixed-term employee) and involves the achievement of a legitimate objective of the employer, with such difference in treatment being appropriate and necessary for that objective.
Probationary/trial periods, which are used by employers to assess an employee’s suitability for a role, are common at all levels in both the public and private sector in Ireland.
In the public sector, a probationary period must not exceed 12 months.
In the private sector, a probationary period must not exceed 6 months save in exceptional circumstances. Where the probationary period is, on an exceptional basis, to be longer than six months, it cannot exceed 12 months and must “be in the interest of the employee”. There is currently no further guidance on what is envisaged as being in the interest of the employee.
If an employee avails of certain categories of protected leave during the probationary period (e.g., maternity, adoptive, carer’s, paternity, parental, parent’s or sick leave), then the probationary period shall be extended by the employer for the duration of the employee’s absence.
In relation to fixed-term contracts, and notwithstanding the above, the length of a probationary period in a fixed-term contract shall be proportionate to the expected duration of the fixed-term contract and the nature of the work. Irish law also stipulates that where a fixed-term contract is renewed for the same tasks and functions, the renewed fixed-term contract should not contain a new probationary period.
When an employer wishes to terminate an employment relationship, there are statutory minimum notice requirements to be served by the employer on all employees with more than 13 weeks’ continuous service:
Duration of Employment Minimum Notice
13 weeks to 2 years 1 week
2 years to 5 years 2 weeks
5 years to 10 years 4 weeks
10 years to 15 years 6 weeks
15 years or more 8 weeks
The employment contract can provide for longer notice periods.
When an employee wishes to terminate an employment relationship, the statutory minimum notice requirement is one week unless the employment contract provides for a longer notice period.
An employer can pay an employee in lieu of notice where the contract provides for it or where an employee consents to it.