Ireland: The Employment Law Review, 8th Edition

I INTRODUCTION

Employment in Ireland is regulated by an extensive statutory framework, much of which finds its origin in European Community law. The Irish Constitution, the law of equity and the common law remain relevant, particularly in relation to applications for injunctions to restrain dismissals and actions for breach of contract. The main Irish legislation in the employment law area includes:

  1. the Industrial Relations Acts 1946–2015;
  2. the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967–2014;
  3. the Protection of Employment Act 1977;
  4. the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts 1973–2001;
  5. the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977–2015;
  6. the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 and 2012;
  7. the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004;
  8. the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997;
  9. the Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015;
  10. the National Minimum Wage Act 2000;
  11. the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001;
  12. the European Communities (Protection of Employees on Transfer of Undertakings) Regulations 2003;
  13. the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003;
  14. the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005;
  15. the Employees (Provision of Information and Consultation) Act 2006;
  16. the Employment Permits Acts 2003–2014; q the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007; r the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012;
  17. the Protected Disclosures Act 2014;
  18. the Workplace Relations Act 2015; and
  19. the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016.

Employment rights under Irish law can be enforced under the specially allocated statutory forum, or by the civil courts in appropriate cases. The process of determining which body or court will have jurisdiction in a particular case will now mainly depend on whether the claim is either being brought under statute or common law.

In general terms, employer's liability (i.e., personal injury) claims and claims of breach of contract are dealt with in the civil courts, as are applications for injunctive relief in relation to employment matters, whereas statutory claims (i.e., those made, for example, under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977–2015 or the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997) are heard by the new Workplace Relations Commission.

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 and this court rarely hears employment-related disputes. Next 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 where 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 below for more detail), 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. Where 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 (2015 Act). The WRC has taken 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 now 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 new system, until they have fully concluded.

Following the 2015 Act, the WRC provides conciliation, advisory, mediation and early resolution services, as well as an adjudication service. The adjudication service, which was formally 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 the complaint by written submission only, unless either party objects within 42 days of being informed.

A major difference with the old system is that now all hearings are held in private. The employer has 56 days from the date of the decision to implement it, and should they 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 Unfair Dismissals Acts 1997–20015 (UDA), and the decision was to re-instate 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.

The WRC has also taken over the role of NERA, which is now referred to as the Inspection and Enforcement Service (IES). The purpose of this service is to monitor employment conditions to ensure compliance and enforcement of employment rights legislation.

iii Labour Court

As of 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.

The Labour Court can choose to deal with the 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, due to special circumstances, that the matter should be heard in private. The Labour Court has wide powers under the new legislation to require witnesses to attend and to take evidence on oath.

A decision of the Labour Court may be appealed on a point of law only to the High Court.

II YEAR IN REVIEW

With clear indications that the Irish economy is recovering, there is a renewed sense of optimism. There has also been a drop in the unemployment rate in Ireland, decreasing to 7.5 per cent in October 2016 from 8.5 per cent in January 2016.

The most notable piece of legislation implemented in 2016 was the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016 (the 2016 Act). This came into force on 1 September 2016 and provides for two weeks' paternity leave following the birth or adoption of a child on or after 1 September 2016. This Act does not confine itself to biological fathers, but extends the entitlement to a 'relevant partner', which includes adoption scenarios, civil partners and cohabitants of the mother of the child. The purpose of the 2016 Act is to give the 'relevant parent' leave so that he can provide or assist in the provision of care for the child and to provide support to the mother or adoptive parent. The two-week period of leave can be taken at any time between the date of confinement or placement and a date not later than 26 weeks after such date.

The 2016 Act also brings it in line with current maternity and adoptive legislation whereby the two-week leave period is protected leave, meaning that the rights of the employee taking paternity leave must be preserved during the period of leave.

The 'relevant parent' can claim a paternity benefit for the two-week period, amounting to €230 per week, which is on par with similar benefits such as maternity benefit, subject to the employee having made appropriate PRSI contributions.

The Employment Permits (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2016 saw the introduction of a new Employment Permits Online System (EPOS) in September 2016. It is hoped that the EPOS will make the system more efficient and allow for secure payment of fees by credit or debit card.

*  Bryan Dunne is a partner and Bláthnaid Evans is a senior associate at Matheson.

To view the full article please click  here.

This article was first published in The Employment Law Review, 8th Edition. Reproduced with permission from Law Business Research.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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