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10 employment law and HR changes to expect in 2019

14 Jan 2019

While 2018 brought GDPR and widespread claims of workplace sexual harassment, Peninsula Ireland’s Alan Hickey says 2019 will bring more changes for HR.

Although employers may hope for a quieter 2019, it’s looking likely that there will be a number of prevalent issues throughout the year, amid the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit. Below are just 10 changes employers need to look out for:

1. Brexit

The nature of Ireland’s future trading relationship with the UK post-Brexit remains unclear. Business groups north and south of the Irish border have signalled their support for the Draft UK Withdrawal Agreement, which they feel is adequate to establish future trade arrangements between the UK and Ireland.

As the British PM is still battling to secure enough support for her agreement, the threat of a ‘no-deal Brexit’ and an uncertain trading relationship with the UK still looms. Employers across the island of Ireland will be hoping for a smooth transition period with minimal disruption and uncertainty to protect both business and employment.

If there is a Brexit-related downturn in business, employment law risks surrounding termination of employment are likely to increase.

2. PAYE modernisation

From 1 January, employers must engage in real-time reporting of PAYE, which means employee pay and deductions need to be calculated and reported as they are paid. PAYE modernisation may represent a particular challenge for rural employers with limited broadband.

Revenue expects to increase its tax take by up to €50m through PAYE modernisation. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants has called for the extra revenue to be distributed to SME employers to help with software and training costs.

3. Industrial unrest

Ryanair spent much of 2018 handling industrial conflict with pilots and other staff seeking better working conditions. Luas operator Transdev issued cooler bags to drivers who threatened industrial action to resolve a row over packed lunches. A three-week strike by Bus Éireann workers also caused considerable transport disruption across the country in 2017.

Primary school teachers are also seeking pay equality for their junior colleagues. With a persistently high level of industrial unrest across both public and private sector employers, more disruption to key services looks likely in 2019.

4. Harassment in the workplace

Employees in Google’s Dublin office joined their colleagues around the world by participating in a walkout to protest against how allegations of harassment have been dealt with by the tech giant. The walkout by Google employees reflects how movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, together with a greater awareness of the gender pay gap, are combining to put pressure on employers to adhere to their stated values.

This trend may represent an opportunity for employers with a strong commitment to social and environmental values to differentiate themselves in an increasingly complicated employment market.

5. Mandatory gender pay gap reporting

While it is not yet clear how exactly mandatory gender pay gap reporting will operate, it is clear that the Government will take action in this area in the next year. As recent figures published indicate that women in Ireland are earning 13.9pc less than men, employers in larger organisations should begin exploring the potential impact of mandatory gender pay gap reporting.

6. Family-friendly progress

It was announced in the Budget that two weeks of paid parental leave will be introduced in November 2019. An incremental increase of up to seven weeks’ paid leave for every parent of a child under one year of age will be introduced by 2021.

High childcare costs and the existing structure of maternity leave, which gives a far greater entitlement to mothers of new babies, reinforces the notion that women should take responsibility for childcare duties. It is only by tackling childcare costs and introducing measures like paid parental leave that men will be encouraged to share the burden of parenting young children.

7. Landmark employment law reform

The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 cleared all stages in both houses of the Oireachtas prior to Christmas. The new law, particularly the requirement to provide employees with five core terms in writing within five days of starting work, will have a significant impact on every employer in Ireland. The Bill is scheduled to commence on 4 March 2019 and will also require employers to:

  • Stop using ‘zero hour’ contracts (unless there is a genuine requirement for a short-term/casual employee)
  • Allow employees to request to be put in a ‘band of hours’ that reflects the actual hours worked rather than the contracted hours
  • Provide a new minimum payment to be paid to employees who are not required to work on a certain week or who work less than 25pc of their weekly contractual hours in a particular week
  • Recognise that casual employees who are employed on a regular and systematic basis are entitled to deemed continuous service between separate periods of employment. Seasonal employees, for instance, who are re-engaged by their employer for a second period of employment will be deemed to have been on lay-off and will accumulate continuous service between contracts

Employers will need to review their employment practices in detail to assess the impact of the Bill on their businesses.

8. Mental health in the workplace

European research has found that 22pc of Irish workers experience stress at work either ‘always’ or ‘most of the time’. Domestic research has also demonstrated that anxiety, stress and depression are the second highest causes of work-related illness in Ireland.

With Ireland nearing full employment, employer organisations can differentiate themselves by offering employees an opportunity to maintain their mental and physical wellbeing. Employers who take the initiative and find ways to keep their workforce healthy and engaged have also been found to experience an improvement in their bottom line.

9. Full employment

While full employment is a welcome by-product of the economic rebound, it perversely represents a risk to business as recruitment processes become drawn-out, employee turnover increases and wage inflation takes hold. Many employers are required to attract talent from abroad, which presents its own difficulties, particularly for Dublin-based employers when pressures on securing accommodation show no signs of easing.

10. Flexible working

As Ireland continues to develop its modern economy, it may be surprising that Irish law does not currently provide employees with the right to seek flexible work arrangements. A number of factors are combining to make employee demands for flexible work more and more inescapable.

As advances in modern technology allow many workplaces to facilitate remote working, employees with young children also need the flexibility to strike a balance between work and family life. While flexible work remains at the discretion of the employer, employers can expect to receive a growing number of requests for flexible work in the short term. Putting a policy in place that sets parameters around flexible working will clarify expectations on both sides and allow employers to stand out in their efforts to attract and retain the best talent.

By Alan Hickey

Alan Hickey is the head of advisory at Peninsula Ireland.

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