Ireland: Guide To Employment Law In Ireland, Summer 2012

Last Updated: 15 May 2012
Article by Séamus Given, Cian Beecher and Kevin Langford

Irish employment law is protective and prescriptive in nature. There is a significant amount of legislation governing the employment relationship in Ireland. Irish employment law is based on an assumption that an employer and employee enter into a contractual relationship freely and voluntarily, on equal terms, and that this is set out in the terms and conditions of employment. Traditionally, the regulation of the employment relationship has taken place almost exclusively at this individual contractual level. Irish employment law is therefore an extension of the law of contract, since much of its substance derives from and relates to contract law.

Statutory Requirements

There is a statutory requirement under Irish law that certain terms and conditions of employment are documented in writing. This requirement must be fulfilled within two months of the commencement of employment.

Some of the more prominent legislative protections in Irish employment law for employees include:

  • That most employees may not work in excess of an average of 48 hours maximum per week (calculated on a four month period). Irish employment law also provides for minimum rest breaks.
  • An entitlement to the national minimum hourly rate of pay which is currently €8.65 for persons over 18.
  • An employee has a statutory entitlement to be paid annual leave. A full time employee is entitled to a minimum of four working weeks annual leave. Furthermore an employee is entitled to leave in respect of the nine annual public holidays in Ireland.
  • A pregnant employee has a statutory entitlement to maternity leave. Ordinary maternity leave is for a period of 26 weeks. An employee has the option to avail of additional maternity leave for a further period of 16 weeks. An adopting employee has an entitlement to ordinary adoptive leave of 24 weeks and additional adoptive leave of 16 weeks. An employer is not obliged to pay an employee while on maternity or adoptive leave.
  • Under Irish employment law, an employee can avail of parental leave (14 weeks per child) and carer's leave (13 to 104 weeks), provided they satisfy certain statutory criteria. There is no obligation to pay employees while on parental or carer's leave.
  • There is no obligation on employers in Irish employment law to pay employees while they are on sick leave.
  • Irish employment law provides that part-time and fixed-term employees cannot be treated less favourably than a comparable full-time employee.
  • Irish employment law sets out the minimum period of notice that is required to be given by either party when terminating a contract of employment.
  • Where employers do not operate an occupational pension scheme, or where there are certain restrictions on any such scheme, they are required to ensure that their employees have access to at least one standard P.R.S.A. (Personal Retirement Savings Account) which can be arranged through a local pension provider/broker.
  • There are some industries in Ireland where pay and conditions are regulated by Employment Regulation Orders and Registered Employment Agreements. This system of regulation is currently undergoing reform.

Employment Law at Common Law

As Ireland is a common law jurisdiction like the United States, there are various common law rights which are implied in the employment relationship such as an entitlement to fair procedures and natural justice, a duty of loyalty and fidelity and mutual trust and confidence.

Industrial Relations

Industrial relations commonly denotes the relationships between management and employees. Trade unions seek to negotiate on employees' behalf in respect of terms and conditions of employment. Trade unions first emerged in Ireland around the time of the Industrial Revolution (1890s). The Irish Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to form associations and become members of trade unions. Employers are not obliged to recognise a trade union or engage in collective bargaining with them. Almost 95% of the public sector of 300,000 employees is unionised. Under 50% of the manufacturing sector and 10% of the white collar/private sector is unionised. Union membership in Ireland is in steady decline.


Employers are recommended that certain non-contractual policies are put in place to guide the employment relationship. These policies would generally cover the Company's grievance and disciplinary procedures, code of conduct, policy on bullying and harassment, sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, parental leave, carer's leave, working time, relocation, equal opportunities, expenses etc. Policies are particularly useful in providing a structure that adheres to fair procedures in the event that there is a grievance or disciplinary issue with an employee.

Employment Disputes

There are many fora where an employee can initiate a claim against his or her employer. The appropriate forum will be determined depending on the "employment rights" that the employee is seeking to protect. Often the same employee could have a claim before a variety of courts or tribunals. Unlike the United States, the concept of "at will" employment does not exist in Ireland. It is considerably more difficult to terminate an employee's contract of employment in Ireland than it is in the United States. An employee can only be summarily dismissed where he or she is found guilty of gross misconduct. Where an employer dismisses an employee without adhering to fair procedures this may amount to unfair dismissal.

The area of employment fora is currently undergoing reform.


The landscape of Irish employment is ever-changing. An existing employer is facing many different challenges in the workplace today (redundancies, reducing pay and conditions). However, a new employer establishing a business in Ireland has an unique opportunity to engage an educated and talented workforce on terms and conditions that are far more attractive to employers than those which were previously the norm.

This article contains a general summary of developments and is not a complete or definitive statement of the law. Specific legal advice should be obtained where appropriate.

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