Key legal risks (new and old) affecting Irish business owners

Gemma O'Connor - Services and Operations Manager

November 04 2022

First published: 02/11/2022
Last updated: 02/11/2022

It’s not an easy time to be a business owner. While taking advantage of the post-pandemic upturn has been a recent priority, there are lots of employment law developments to stay on top of as well.

Without taking the right precautions, an accident, a discrimination claim, or an unfair dismissal claim could set your business back. That’s why you need solid HR policies and procedures to keep your team safe and successful.

Here we take a look at some of the most common risks that affect business owners in Ireland and how to ensure your business is protected…

1. Injuries and accidents at work

Whether it’s an office environment or a building site, there’s always a risk of accidents. At any time, one of your team could trip and fall, or injure themselves whilst using machinery.

If you breach health & safety regulations, you face the stress of defending a claim and potentially paying compensation to any employees who are injured on the job.

So, make sure you take precautions to help minimise the risk of accidents and keep your staff safe. This should include:

  • carrying out regular risk assessments
  • checking for physical hazards that might cause injury, including mental hazards, like long hours or a heavy workload that could lead to psychological distress
  • providing regular up-to-date training
  • teaching your staff to carry out tasks safely to minimise the risk of them hurting themselves and others
  • depending on your industry, you may need to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) like safety glasses, protective clothing, or hard hats

You also need a robust health & safety policy.

Your health & safety policy should outline the measures you have in place to protect staff. This helps you minimise the risk of accidents and remain legally compliant.

With strong health & safety policies and procedures in place, you’ll also be ready for any inspections by the Health and Safety Authority.

2. Discrimination and harassment claims

As well as a general duty of care to provide a safe workplace for your employees, employers have numerous legal obligations under a large body of employment laws.

Employment equality law in Ireland requires you to protect your employees from acts of discrimination or harassment. This duty extends to preventing workplace harassment perpetrated by you as employer, by other employees or by other third parties like contractors, suppliers and customers.

Discrimination is treating someone differently – either directly or indirectly - for any of the following reasons:

  • age
  • disability
  • race
  • gender
  • civil status
  • family status
  • sexual orientation
  • religion
  • membership of the Traveller community

Employment equality law defines these traits as protected characteristics. So, if someone in your business does treat a co-worker differently based on any of these protected characteristics, they’ll be breaking the law.

You can help reduce the risk of discrimination in your workplace by:

  • providing anti-discrimination training to staff
  • teaching employees what discrimination is, how it can happen, and the types of behaviour that won’t be tolerated
  • outlining how staff can report incidents
  • making sure you have a process for staff to report any incidents of discrimination they experience or witness
  • having an up-to-date equality and anti-discrimination policy

If an employee makes a discrimination complaint and you don’t have an appropriate policy in place or procedures to deal with the complaint, your business is exposed to the steep reputational and financial costs of a discrimination claim.

3. Unfair dismissal claims

If you have to terminate an employee’s employment contract, you’ll need to ensure you follow fair procedures before doing so.

If you don’t, your former employee could make a claim for unfair dismissal that leads to an award of compensation against your business.

To make sure you don’t dismiss an employee in haste and repent at leisure, make sure you:

  • have a disciplinary policy in place
  • follow your disciplinary procedures as set out in your employee handbook
  • follow fair procedures and ensure the employee has an opportunity to present their evidence
  • if the dismissal is for competence reasons, ensure the employee has been told what their shortcomings are and give them enough time (at least six months typically) to improve their performance

4. New law mandating paid leave for sick employees

The Sick Leave Act 2022 was signed into law in July. From 1 January 2023, employers have a legal obligation to pay up to three days of paid sick leave to any staff who are medically certified as unavailable for work due to illness or injury.

This new sick pay scheme will be rolled out on a phased basis with the amount of statutory sick days increasing to five days in 2024, seven days in 2025 and 10 days in 2026.

Statutory sick pay will be paid at a rate of 70% of the employee’s normal daily earnings subject to a cap of €110 per day.

If you already provide more favourable sick pay benefits to employees, you will not have to take any action.

5. Clear employment terms and conditions

The EU Directive on Transparency and Predictability of Working Conditions (the “Directive”) was due to be transposed into Irish law on 2 August 2022. The Directive sets out what employment terms need to be given to employees in writing and time limits for doing so.

Many of the obligations under the Directive are provided for under existing Irish legislation such as the Terms of Employment Information Act 1994 and the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018.

The remaining provisions that have yet to be legislated for in Ireland include:

  • a six-month limit on probationary periods (extensions will be permitted in exceptional circumstances, such as where the nature of the employment (for example, a high-level managerial position) justifies an extension, or where the extension is necessary to make up for a period of employee absence during the probationary period.
  • a prohibition on employers from restricting employees from taking up second jobs outside their work schedule with another employer (exceptions will be permitted for genuine reasons such as protecting confidentiality, preventing conflicts of interests, or complying with health and safety rules).
  • an employee right to request a transfer to more secure and predictable working conditions after six months’ service.
  • an employee right to receive all mandatory training on a cost-free basis.

You will need to review your employment documentation as soon as the Irish law transposing the Directive is passed.

6. 2022 employment law developments

It has been a busy year for employment law developments. Parents’ leave increased to seven weeks this summer for working parents of children born or adopted after 1 July 2022.

The hospitality industry will be mindful of the Payment of Wages (Amendment)(Tips and Gratuities) Act 2022 which is due to come into effect on 1 December 2023 . This new law establishes rules around distributing tips, service charges and gratuities to employees.

The Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022 is expected to be passed into law before the end of the year. This law will introduce a range of measures to improve family-friendly work practices and support women in the workforce.

And finally, the Right to Request Remote Work Bill is still making its way through the legislative process. Should this law pass, employers will have to develop and maintain policies regarding the right of employees to request remote working arrangements.

Let our HR experts protect your business

Our expert advisors can help keep your business up to date with ever-changing employment laws.

As a trusted HR and health & safety consultant, Peninsula serves thousands of small businesses across Ireland.

Peninsula clients receive bespoke workplace documentation and policies that are regularly updated in line with any changes in employment law.

They also benefit from 24/7 employer HR advice supported by a litigation representation team should you suffer a Workplace Relations Commission claim.

To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call an expert today at 1800 719 216.

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