2015 was a busy year for employment law in Ireland. Highlights include the commencement of the Workplace Relations Act, 2015 and the largest ever award in the history of the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

We take a look back at some of the key developments during the year including:

  1. New Process for Resolving Workplace Disputes
  2. Compliance Measures
  3. Collective Bargaining
  4. Registered Employment Agreements and Employment Regulation Orders
  5. Accrual of Annual Leave while on Certified Sick Leave
  6. Changes to Minimum Wage
  7. Paternity Leave
  8. Reinstatement of an Employee 6 Years After his Dismissal
  9. Largest Ever Award from the EAT
  10. Employee’s Travel Time
  11. Technology in the Workplace

1.  New Process for Resolving Workplace Disputes

On 1 October 2015 the process for resolving workplace disputes in Ireland was completely overhauled with the commencement of the Workplace Relations Act, 2015 (the “WR Act”).

The WR Act introduced a new forum for hearing all workplace complaints in the first instance, the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”), which replaces the functions of the Rights Commissioner, the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Equality Tribunal and the Labour Relations Commission. All appeals will now be heard by an expanded Labour Court.  

Top Tip: Employers should be mindful of the stricter time limits that the WR Act has introduced in dealing with the resolution of workplace disputes.

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2.  Compliance Measures

Under the WR Act, the functions previously carried out by the National Employment Rights Authority are now conducted by the WRC. In particular, authorised officers and inspectors of the WRC have been given extensive powers to collect documentary and personal evidence in relation to alleged breaches of workplace legislation. Their powers include entry to premises, removal of documents and interviewing individuals.

An inspector may serve a Compliance Notice on an employer if satisfied that a contravention of the relevant legislation has occurred.

Inspectors have the power to issue fixed payment notices for amounts up to €2,000 in circumstances where they reasonably believe that a person has committed an offence.

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3.  Collective Bargaining

The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act, 2015 (the “2015 Act”) which commenced on 1 August 2015 provides a new definition of “collective bargaining”, and clarifies which employers are covered by the Acts and which are not. Strictly speaking the 2015 Act does not impose any obligation on employers to engage in collective bargaining. However, in reality, it widens the situations in which workers, whose employers refuse to engage in collective bargaining, can have their relevant disputes addressed.

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4.  Registered Employment Agreements and Employment Regulation Orders

The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act, 2015 introduced a new system for Registered Employment Agreements (“REAs”). This follows a 2013 Supreme Court ruling which found the previous REA framework to be unconstitutional.

No new REAs have been registered since the commencement of the 2015 Act, however, employers in industries previously covered by REAs should keep up-to-date with developments this area.

A new Employment Regulation Order for the contract cleaning and security industries came into effect on 1 October 2015.

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5.  Accrual of Annual Leave While on Certified Sick Leave

Since 1 August 2015, employees who are on certified sick leave continue to accrue statutory annual leave for the duration of the period of certified sick leave. Employees who could not take annual leave due to illness during the relevant leave year can carry over their annual leave for a period of 15 months from the end of the relevant leave year.

6.  Changes to Minimum Wage

The Low Pay Commission was established in 2015 following the enactment of the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Act, 2015. The principal function of this Commission is to examine and make recommendations to the Government as to the appropriate level of the national minimum wage on an annual basis.

Top Tip: The national minimum wage increased from €8.65 to €9.15 per hour on 1 January 2016. 

7.  Paternity Leave

In its Budget speech for 2016, the Government announced that statutory paternity leave of 2 weeks is to be introduced, together with a new paternity benefit, from September 2016, subject to relevant legislation being passed.

The new legislation has not yet been drafted, however, it is expected that it will allow fathers in employment to take two weeks’ paternity leave, paid at €230 per week by the State, based on the same PRSI contributions as those required for maternity benefit.

8.  Reinstatement of an Employee 6 Years After his Dismissal

In April 2015, the High Court ordered Bank of Ireland (“BOI”) to reinstate a former employee who was dismissed in 2009 for breach of the BOI email policy on the basis that the decision of BOI to dismiss was disproportionate and unreasonable.

The High Court’s decision gives clear guidance on the factors that employers should consider when putting an employee on paid suspension. It also serves as a worthwhile reminder of the costly consequences of an order for reinstatement under the Unfair Dismissal legislation, where the employee in this case stands to receive back pay of 6 years.

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9.  Largest Ever Award from the EAT

In June 2015 the Employment Appeals Tribunal made the largest monetary award in its history when it awarded €1.25 million to a former employee of RSA. The amount represents close to the maximum award of 2 years’ remuneration that can be made under the Unfair Dismissals legislation.

The decision grabbed many headlines for the size of the award. It also serves as an important reminder for employers of just how essential the basics are when suspending, investigating and disciplining employees at all levels.

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10.  Employee’s Travel Time

In September 2015, a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union found that journeys made by workers without a fixed place of work between their homes and the first and last customer of the day count as working time for the purposes of the EU Working Time Directive.

The Irish courts are obliged to interpret Irish law in line with EU legislation and court rulings so it remains to be seen how this decision will be viewed by the Irish courts.  If the decision is viewed in a broad manner, it is likely that employers would be required to pay their employees for the time spent travelling to and from work, where there is no fixed place of work, which could greatly impact on the number of calls carried out in any given day.  More importantly, employers need to be careful when arranging their employee’s working schedules as the time spent traveling to and from work will count towards the 48 hour maximum working week imposed by the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.

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11.  Technology in the Workplace

In 2015, technology continued to change the way we communicate, the way we inform ourselves, and the way we do business. From remote working to privacy concerns to cyberslacking, managing technology in the workplace has become an area which employers simply cannot ignore.

In September 2015, we welcomed Heidi Swartz, Director and General Counsel of Facebook, California to our offices to share her insights on working in an organisation which promotes technology in business and the challenges this creates.