Bob Dylan said it best: The times they are a-changin’. If you’re an employer, that is particularly true this year.
So, what do you need to know?
Gender Pay Gap Reporting
Do you have more than 250 employees? If yes, you’ll need to be aware of the new obligations around reporting on pay gaps between genders.
In short, you need to pick a date in June 2022 (and every June after that), known as the ‘snapshot’ date. You’ll collate certain pay information for employees on that date, and then you need to report it (including on your website) no later than December 2022.
If your data shows there is a gender pay gap in your organisation, you’ll need to identify why, and report on how you’ll address that gap.
We’ve written in more detail around the gender pay gap reporting requirements here.
Even if you have less than 250 employees, make sure this one stays on your radar. The threshold for reporting drops over the next few years, so that in 2025 any organisation with over 50 employees will be covered by the reporting regulations.
Sick Pay Scheme
Right now, there’s no legal obligation for employers in Ireland to pay their employees sick pay. Because of this, only half of Irish employees have a right to paid sick leave, the majority of whom are public sector workers.
A new Sick Leave Bill has been published, and when it’s enacted (it’s currently before the Seanad), all workers will have the right to paid sick leave for the first time in Ireland.
The proposed legislation means any employee with 13 weeks’ continuous service has the right to sick pay if they are unable to work due to illness or injury. Employees will be entitled to 3 days’ sick pay a year, rising to 5 days in 2024, 7 days in 2025 and 10 days in 2026.
Where an employee provides a medical cert, employers will need to pay sick pay at a rate of 70% of the employee’s wage, subject to a daily cap of €110.
The new legislation is due to start later in 2022.
Employers without a sick pay scheme will need to plan for this and draft a relevant policy. Employers with a sick pay scheme will need to review that policy for compliance with the new legislation.
Right to work remotely
Soon, employees will have the right to request remote working. The Irish Government has published a Draft Scheme of the Right to Request Remote Working Bill 2022. They’ll follow up shortly with a Code of Practice that will give employers guidance on implementing the new laws. It’s likely that this new legislation will come into effect later this year.
The Draft Bill might change before it’s approved. But, what does it say now? In short:
- All employers, regardless of size or sector, will need a written remote working policy.
- Any employee with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service will be entitled to request remote working.
- Employers can refuse that request on business grounds, and the draft Bill sets out some examples of those grounds.
- Employers who don’t implement a remote working policy are guilty of an offence and might be fined ~€2,500.
Should you wait until the legislation is approved before introducing a remote working policy?
- If any of your employees are working remotely now, you should have a policy now.
- If you’re hiring for roles that you might offer remotely (even part of the time), you should have a policy now.
- Otherwise, you can wait until the new legislation is finalised.
For those with existing policies, or implementing policies now, make sure you review those policies after the new legislation is finalised, so you’re compliant with the new laws.
Right to disconnect
From April 2022, the Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect came into effect.
Under the Code, the right to disconnect is:
- The right of an employee to not routinely perform work outside normal working hours.
- The right to not be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours.
- The duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (e.g. by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours).
Other than defining what’s meant by the ‘right to disconnect’, the Code mostly just re-enforces existing employer obligations under other legislation. Failure to follow the Code isn’t an offence, but it could be used as evidence in a claim, such as an unfair dismissal claim.
The only new obligation for employers under the Code is the requirement to implement a right to disconnect policy.
Work Life Balance
The General Scheme of a Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022 was brought to Cabinet in April 2022 on foot of Ireland’s obligations under the EU Work-life Balance Directive.
The General Scheme proposes a new rights and protections to assist working parents and carers. Key features are:
- a right to request flexible working.
- a right to take up to five days’ unpaid leave per year to provide medical care.
- an increased entitlement to paid time off to breastfeed.
The legislation should in in place by August 2022. At this point, employers will need to review and amend their existing leave and flexible working policies to ensure they are compliant with the new legislation.
This is a little different to the gender pay gap reporting we mentioned above. In March 2022, a new Code of Practice on Equal Pay was published. It provides practical guidance for employers to ensure people performing the same work are paid the same, and how to resolve pay disputes.
In particular, a person must not be paid less because of their gender, marital status, family status, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, religion, or membership of the Traveler community. The Code recommends that employers undertake a pay audit to identify and address inconsistencies and ensure pay transparency.
Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work
The Code of practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work sets out what is meant by employment-related harassment and how it can be dealt with and prevented from reoccurring.
It stresses the importance of developing and implementing policies and procedures which establish working environments free of harassment and provides that a policy on harassment at work is an integral part of equality strategies in the workplace. The Codes notes that such a policy is most effective when operated in conjunction with similar polices on equal opportunity and health and safety.
Ireland’s existing whistleblowing legislation is set to be extended this year, when the currently drafted Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2022 is finalised.
One of the key changes for employers is that all private sector employers with more than 50 employees will need to put in place formal channels and procedures for making a disclosure under the whistleblowing legislation. Failure to do so is an offence. If you have more than 250 employees, you need this in place as soon as the Bill becomes law. If you have 50 – 249 employees, you have until 17 December 2023 to put this in place.
Most employers will need to update their existing whistleblowing policy to remain compliant with the changes when they come into force (and train relevant staff on the changes). There are significant penalties attached to breaching whistleblowing legislation, including fines of up to €250,000 and up to 2 years’ imprisonment. This is definitely one to get right.
We’re here to help. There’s a lot to stay on top of to remain compliant as an employer. Give us a shout if you want help drafting or reviewing your employee policies or employee handbook to stay compliant with these changes.