2019 – A Year for Flexibility in Employment Law?

by Melanie Crowley, partner in the Employment & Benefits team at Mason Hayes & Curran

Amongst other changes, 2019 saw a series of statutory reforms aimed at flexibility and work life balance in the workplace.

Legislation was introduced aimed at protecting those engaged in flexible working, particularly those who work on a casual basis. Benefits for parents were also a key focus with an increase to parental leave and the introduction of parent’s leave and benefit.

Significant Changes for Casual Workers

The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018 (the 2018 Act) was heralded as delivering on the Irish Government’s commitment to strengthen rights for vulnerable workers and increasing the protection of those in precarious employment. The 2018 Act came into force in early March 2019 and introduced five key changes to an employer’s use of flexible staff, as follows:

  1. New requirements around providing basic written terms of employment
  2. Prohibition on zero hour contracts
  3. Minimum payment for zero hour contracts
  4. New rights to move on to banded hours, and
  5. New penalisation provisions

New Leave for New Parents

The Parent’s Leave and Benefit Act 2019 was signed into law on 24 October 2019. It provides the parents of children born or adopted on or after 1 November 2019 with an additional two weeks “parent’s leave” to be taken within 12 months of the date of birth or adoption.

Parent’s leave can be taken in either one continuous period of two weeks or alternatively in two one-week blocks.

Parent’s leave is in addition to the rights already in place for maternity, adoptive, paternity and parental leave but can only be taken after any period of maternity or adoptive leave has expired.

Employers do not have to pay employees for parent’s leave. However, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection will pay parent’s benefit at the same rate as maternity and paternity benefit which is currently €245 per week. Individual employers can decide if they want to “top up” the payment to salary level should they wish to do so.

Increased Parental Leave Entitlements

Since 1 September 2019, entitlement to parental leave has been increased from 18 to 22 weeks’. There will be a further increase from 22 to 26 weeks on 1 September 2020. The maximum age of the child for whom parental leave can be taken has also been increased from 8 years to 12 years.

Conclusion

Work-life balance has been a key focus of the European Union for the past number of years culminating in the passing of the EU Work-life Balance Directive in August 2019. This, coupled with social pressure, changing workplace demographics and generational expectations has meant employers have had to adapt how work is done. Gone are the days of working 9 to 5.  Employees now demand flexible working hours, remote working, time to spend with their families all facilitated by developments in technology. This brings challenges in terms of monitoring employee working time and, in some instances, concerns about quality and workplace inclusion. Our view is that this is set to continue.

We expect that in 2020 there will be further developments across Europe and the US, in particular, in the whole area of a-typical working to include developments in gig economy working.  We also expect to see long-awaited legislation around gender pay gap reporting.

The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.

About the author
Melanie is a partner on the Employment & Benefits team at Mason, Hayes & Curran. Her diverse practice covers the full spectrum of employment law issues, both for employers and employees, as an advisor to clients on complex non-contentious workplace issues and as an experienced litigator before all employment related fora.
Melanie is the go-to employment lawyer for some of Ireland’s biggest domestic and multi-national companies and employers including the Legal Aid Board, the Health & Safety Authority, Facebook, Twitter, arvato, Activision, Zenimax, Accenture and Western Union.
Melanie has advised many large companies either entering the Irish market for the first time or increasing their market presence and on all matters relating to their workforces, often involving hundreds of employees. She assists clients in drafting bespoke employment contracts, agreements and HR policies and procedures. Melanie also provides on-going support to HR managers in relation to the management of day to day disciplinary issues, the handling of employee related complaints, internal reorganisations and rationalisations, terminations and transfer of undertakings.

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