The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently handed down its eagerly awaited preliminary ruling in a decade-long age discrimination case relating to the requirement that new entrants to the Irish police service, An Garda Síochána, be under 35 years old. The ECJ's ruling will undoubtedly affect the approach taken by the Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court when similar issues arise.
With preparations in full swing for the festive season, this article reviews typical workplace issues which are commonly faced by employers at Christmas. In addition to health and safety considerations, employers are advised to draw up rosters in early December to confirm with employees the days that they will be required to work over the holiday period. This should be done to avoid confusion or upset among staff and to comply with the Organisation of Working Time Act.
The Irish media merger regime has a long history and remains a complex part of Irish regulatory law and politics. Given the recent sharp increase in mergers of Irish and global media businesses – reflecting dramatic levels of decline in 'traditional' media consumption and 'e-substitution' leading to pressure to consolidate – the Irish media merger regime is affecting all corners of the global industry.
Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphries recently laid the Competition Act 2002 (Section 27) Order 2018 before the Houses of the Oireachtais. This will have the effect of increasing the financial thresholds for M&A requiring a notification to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. This is the first time that a minister has used their powers under Section 27 of the Competition Acts from 2002 to 2017.
The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation recently published legislation that substantially increases the financial thresholds at and above which notification of a transaction is required to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. From 1 January 2019, only mergers where the acquirer and target each generate €10 million or more and together generate €60 million or more turnover in Ireland will trigger mandatory notification.
Heightened awareness of data privacy rights following the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation has increased the number of subject access requests from current and former employees. As responding to subject access requests can be costly and time consuming, being prepared and organised can save employers considerable time and money, particularly in the context of employment disputes.
Employers cannot be expected to hold positions open indefinitely for employees who are absent on extended sick leave. However, as confirmed in a recent Labour Court determination, where an employer proposes to dismiss an employee on the grounds of incapacity or a disability, it is essential that the decision is made based on up-to-date medical advice. Otherwise, the employer may be exposed to claims of discriminatory dismissal or failure to reasonably accommodate the employee.
The Shared Maternity Leave and Benefit Bill is still at an early stage but, if enacted, it would transform the potential entitlements of fathers, among others, to take time off following the birth of their child. It would also allow pregnant employees to share ordinary maternity leave with a relevant parent. If the bill moves forward, employers will need to update their policies regarding maternity leave and consider how to treat those on shared maternity leave.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission's (CCPC's) current scrutiny of the Restaurants Association of Ireland serves as a reminder that trade associations must be careful to stay within the lines and avoid encouraging or inadvertently facilitating anti-competitive agreements between their members. Compliance training is an essential tool to prevent unwanted scrutiny from the CCPC and other authorities.
The minister for business, enterprise and innovation recently signed off on changes to the Employment Permits Regulations, making it easier for certain businesses in the agri-food sector to source workers from outside the European Economic Area. The announcement is a positive indication of the government's willingness to meet Ireland's changing labour needs and may signal a more flexible approach.
Non-compete clauses can provide important protection for purchasers who have a legitimate interest in maintaining the value of the business they are acquiring. However, careful consideration must be given to the drafting of non-competes in order to avoid allegations of anti-competitive conduct – which is a criminal offence in Ireland – and scrutiny from competition regulators such as the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the European Commission.
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection recently launched an ad campaign on what they term 'false self-employment'. If an individual is deemed to be an employee instead of self-employed following assessment, it could have serious employment law, tax or social welfare implications for the employers concerned. Businesses that engage individuals on a self-employed basis should take steps to ensure that their work practices are appropriate.
A new bill has been proposed in the Oireachtas to grant the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) civil enforcement powers. At present, where the CCPC identifies a suspected breach of competition law, it must petition the court to impose criminal penalties. Under the amendment bill, the CCPC would be empowered to levy administrative fines against firms or individuals for anti-competitive practices. This would bring Ireland into line with most other EU member states.
Employers that provide references for former employees may be sued for negligent misstatement if the reference is found to be inaccurate. Employers should therefore take reasonable care to ensure that references are not misleading due to omitted information or the inclusion of facts which, although accurate when viewed discretely, either through nuance or innuendo generate a misleading picture when considered overall.
A recent case regarding a claim of unfair dismissal was appealed on a point of law from the Labour Court to the High Court. The Labour Court decided that an employee should have been advised by her employer in advance of signing a fixed-term contract of the effect that the contract would have on her contractual status as an employee. It held that it was insufficient for the employer to simply rely on the fact that the contract had complied with the Unfair Dismissals Acts.
Ireland has recently shown an increased interest in gun jumping, the prohibited practice of implementing a transaction without having first obtained merger control clearance. In February 2018 the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission confirmed that it had launched an investigation into suspected gun jumping by Armalou Holdings Limited of Lillis O'Donnell Motor Company Limited.
The Supreme Court recently found the well-established regime of registered employment agreements to be unconstitutional. Uncertainty regarding the level of protection for wages and benefits of workers in the construction sector followed this decision, but has now been addressed by the Sectoral Employment Order (Construction Sector) 2017 and the Sectoral Employment Order (Mechanical Engineering Building Services Contracting Sector) 2018.
The Mediation Act 2017 recently entered into force. The act's objective is to promote mediation as an attractive alternative to court proceedings, in terms of time, cost, resources and the avoidance of acrimony. Although mediation may not be suitable for all disputes, the act provides a platform for parties to resolve their difficulties without commencing litigation where appropriate (albeit certain classes of case are excluded from its scope).
Straitened times have led to an increase in litigation before the courts involving lay litigants or litigants in person acting without formal legal representation. Notwithstanding that such litigants may not have instructed a solicitor or barrister, they sometimes appear with assistance from a non-legally qualified third party. Recent practice directions across the various levels of the court provide important guidance on the scope of such assistance.
A recent Supreme Court decision confirming that third-party litigation funding in return for a share of the proceeds is unlawful in Ireland has put after-the-event (ATE) insurance back in the spotlight as the only legitimate alternative method of funding litigation. Although a relatively new insurance product, a number of insurers are now providing ATE insurance in Ireland.