Employment Law difference between Northern Ireland and Great Britain

Peninsula Team

August 03 2012

While employment rights and obligations of employees in NI are, on the whole, in line with those in GB this article looks to outline the main differences as well as the overlap in legislation between the two jurisdictions. Naturally, getting down to the finer details of legislation can get confusing, so I would remind you to contact the NI advice line where myself or my colleagues will be happy to answer you specific queries.

The main difference comes from the fact that the statutory rules are not always to be found in the same piece of legislation, and sometimes only part of the legislation applies. To complicate matters further the equivalent legislation may not come into force on the same date as GB as it must be passed by the NI Assembly, this is where it is easy to get confused on what legislation applies and what does not. The most recent example of this is regarding the qualifying period before an employee can bring a claim for unfair dismissal which remains at one year in NI and has not increased to two years as in GB.

The main differences include:
• Separate pieces of legislation for each of the protected characteristics continue to apply in NI in relation to equality laws however in GB the Equality Act 2010 exists which consolidated equality laws.

• The statutory dismissal and disciplinary procedures still remains in force in NI unlike GB and employers should follow the standard three-step dismissal and disciplinary procedure to avoid automatic unfair dismissal.

• With regards to discrimination on the grounds of religious belief in NI the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998 goes a little further than GB as it protects employees, job applicants and others against discrimination on the grounds of religious belief/or political opinion. This piece of legislation also requires employers in NI to register with the Equality Commission of NI (The Commission), retain and record suitable data, file an annual monitoring report to The Commission and conduct periodic reviews. Employers should be aware that as well as some breaches of the monitoring provisions being criminal offences, The Commission has available a substantial penalty that is not matched in GB.

• Under the Race Relations (NI) Order 1997, Irish Travellers are specfically designated as a separate racial group for the purpose of protection against racial discrimination.

Under TUPE regulations the section which related to changes of service provider, does not apply in NI, instead there is separate legislation – the Service Provision Change (Protection of Employment) Regulations (NI) 2006. For practical purposes this difference is really just an irritation but in NI legislation the definition of an organised grouping of employees for the purpose of service provision change is group of employee’s situated in NI whereas the GB legislation refers to a group of employees situated in GB.

• Applications for compulsory trade union recognition in NI are dealt with by the Industrial Court and not by the Central Arbitration Committee as in GB.

• The statutory right to request time off to train is not applicable in NI as in GB.

• In NI, Employment Tribunals are still known as Industrial Tribunals. In addition, Fair Employment Tribunals hear all cases that relate to claims under the Fair Employment legislation. ACAS does not operate in NI, instead NI has the LRA.

• Employers need to adjust harassment policies’ to take into account of the particular concerns in NI surrounding use of flags and emblems such as union jacks, tricolours, lilies and so on. It has to be emphasised as often as necessary that anything which identifies community allegiance needs justification in the workplace.

• Employers in NI should be aware of the potential impact on employee and public relations regarding the recruitment of people with trouble-related convictions.

• Under section 75 of the NI Act 1998, public authorities and private sector employers involved in tendering for public sector projects will need to have due regard to the need to promote good relations with regards to those people with protected characteristics.

• In accordance with the Working Time regulations the public/bank holidays in NI are slightly different to GB. The 12th July is a public holiday and many employees also take 13th July. The 17th March is also a bank holiday, but is not taken by all employees. When drafting holiday entitlement procedures there is a potential for religious belief or political opinion discrimination claim if care is not taken about the allocation of holidays however you can contact our documentation department to assist with updating your policies.

The discussion points listed above should give you a better understanding of the main difference between NI and GB but if you need further information on any of these points, don’t get too bogged down on trying to figure out which legislation is applicable as a quick phone call to our NI advice line will resolve your query.

If you require any further information on the process of redundancy please do not hesitate to contact the advice line on 0844 892 2786.

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