Employment Equality Act in Ireland

05 February 2021

Under Irish law, employees have protection against discrimination thanks to special equality legislation in Ireland.

There are nine protected grounds set out in the legislation. The grounds are monitored by equality commissions to ensure they continue to protect both human rights and equality in Ireland.

From an employer’s perspective, the Employment Equality Act is a crucial piece of legislation.

A suite of employment equality acts include rights to promote fair treatment for employees and all citizens. Such as, equal opportunities, equal pay and the establishment of safe conditions of employment.

The Employment Equality Act 1998 to 2015 outlaws discrimination under nine specific grounds

This includes equal rights for employees regardless of sexual orientation. It also includes ensuring that candidates have equal access to employment.

Employers are under obligation to adhere to the Employment Equality Acts. However, it can be difficult to understand certain issues like direct and indirect discrimination.

Below, Peninsula explores the Employment Equality Act in Ireland.

The Employment Equality Act 2015

The Employment Equality Act 2015 is the amalgamation of different equality acts since 1998.

The main intention of the act is to ban discrimination. It does so by setting out nine grounds within equality legislation in Ireland that employers must be aware of.

These nine grounds are:

Beyond the nine grounds, intention of the Employment Equality Act 2015 is to:

  • Protect full-time, part-time, and temporary employees.
  • Cover employees in both the public & private sectors.
  • Provide safeguards for employees who are under the direction of vocational training bodies, employment agencies and trade unions.
  • Promote equality and allow positive action across all nine grounds.
  • Ban sexual harassment as well as all other forms of harassment.
  • Prevent victimisation and aid victimised employees.
  • Ensure those with disabilities are able to take place in training and employment with suitable facilities.

The law defines discrimination in the workplace in a specific way. This is as an employee receiving less favourable treatment than another person in a similar situation because of who they are.

This includes both direct discrimination and indirect discrimination.

Due to this, the Employment Equality Act covers employees facing different forms of discrimination. This includes discrimination by employers involving:

  • job advertisements
  • recruitment
  • training
  • work experience
  • promotion and re-grading
  • collective agreements (agreements between an employer and a trade union about pay or conditions of employment).

What are an employer’s obligations under the Employment Equality Act?

An employer is under obligation to prevent discrimination under the Employment Equality Act. This includes unintentional conduct as well as wilful discrimination.

Employees and potential employees receive protection under the legislation. The protected aspects of employment that include:

  • Terms & conditions of employment: above all else, an employee’s contract and terms of employment needs to adhere to the Employment Equality Act.
  • Advertising and access to employment: a job listing must not discriminate against any persons based on the nine grounds. It cannot exclude any potential candidates, however, there are passive cases of discrimination. If these are unavoidable, it may be ‘objectively justifiable’. This needs carefully consider though as few examples of fair, objectively justifiable discrimination. For example, if a role requires particular training.
  • Dismissal: dismissing an employee must be fair. This includes considering alternatives to dismissal, such as less working hours. These alternatives must be discussed with the employee. Dismissals like redundancies are also protected. Employers should pursue every alternative avenue before pursuing options like redundancies. Employers must be particularly mindful of any employees who are protected under any of the nine grounds.
  • Equal pay: all employees should have the opportunity to earn the same pay for the same amount of work.

The Employment Equality Act 1998

The Employment Equality Act has changed, updated and undergone amendments since its first iteration in 1998. Some remain unchanged, but the majority of it still remains relevant, even after amendments.

The main factors of the Employment Equality Act 1998 are:

  • Anti-discrimination in specific areas: these include vocational training, advertising, and discrimination by employers. It also includes nine specific grounds under which employers are forbidden to treat people differently, such as membership of the Traveller community.
  • Specific provisions as to equality between men and women: these provisions outline entitlements and more. They include entitlement to equal payment and implied term as to equal payment. They also include protection against sexual harassment and positive action on equal opportunities. This includes other provisions to prevent gender discrimination.
  • Specific provisions as to equality between other categories of persons: this includes indirect discrimination, permitted positive actions and harassment in the workplace. There are special provisions related to persons with disabilities. There are others related to savings and exceptions related to family or age.
  • The 1998 Act also established the Equality Authority.
    This body has since been replaced by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

Finally, the Employment Equality Act 1998 also featured sections that addresses distinct factors. These included:

  • Information on equality investigations.
  • Information on collective agreements.
  • Information on decisions and determinations.
  • Redress: this includes the right to information and the enforcement powers of authorities. This authority may be the Labour Court, Circuit Court or the director of the company.
  • Enforcement by Circuit Court: this includes the powers of Circuit Court on the enforcement of determinations, decisions and mediated settlements.
  • Offences: this includes penalties for dismissal of employee for exercising rights. It also includes addressing obstructions of directors or other officers.
  • Supplementary factors: this includes an Amendment of Industrial Relations Act 1990 and striking out cases which are not pursued. It also includes alternative avenues of redress.
  • General information: this covers powers to enter premises and requirements on persons to provide information. It also includes sanctions for failure or refusal to supply information.

The Employment Equality Act 2004

This act amended many sections of the Employment Equality Act 1998. However, the main updates under the Employment Equality Act 2004 were:

  • Addition of Section 13A: applies to a partner in a partnership as it applies to an employee and accordingly has effect with modifications. These modifications reference to an employee that include references to such a partner. It also references to an employer including references to a partnership. As well as any other necessary modifications.
  • Addition of Section 14A: protections for a harassed or sexually harassed employee. Protections apply to workplace harassments as well as harassment occurring during employment. This applies to harassment by the victim’s employer, a client of the victim or a customer of the victim or of the employer.
  • Repeals Section 23 of the 1998 Act: previous section considers sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Repeals Section 32 of the 1998 Act: previous section considers harassment in the workplace.
  • Addition of Section 77A: states that a company’s director may dismiss a claim if they believe it has been made in bad faith. This includes a claim being frivolous, vexatious or relates to a trivial manner.
  • Addition of Section 85A: states that if a complaint of discrimination arises, the respondent must be the one to prove the contrary. The section also outlines what is discrimination.
  • Addition of Section 99A: states that the Labour Court and the director of a company can pay for a third party to assist with appeals and investigations. They may do so if they feel that an appeal or investigation is being obstructed or impeded.
  • Addition of Section 101A: states that an employee cannot receive relief when an employer’s conduct constitutes a contravention of either Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001 or the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003.
  • Amendments of Pensions Act 1990.
  • Amendments to Equal Status Act 2000.

Help with Employment Equality Acts

Employers are responsible to ensure that employees receive protection from these acts. However, they can be confusing, and even with the best of intentions it is not impossible to make mistakes.

Peninsula offers HR expertise to avoid such mistakes.

An employer can consult us for help ensuring that their employee contracts receive protection. We also offer 24-hour advice, for whenever employers need HR expertise.

Get in touch with us today for any HR assistance on 0818 923 923.

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