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06.01.2021

Irish employment law 2021: Top five changes to look out for

By Amie Doran

2020 may have changed the way we work forever.

Businesses throughout Ireland had to react and adapt to outside events on a scale never seen before. Employees the country over made the move to working from home. And, as an unfortunate consequence of restrictions and lockdowns, many businesses had to keep their doors shut.

2021 will no doubt bring its own challenges. To help you prepare for the upcoming year, here are five employment law changes to keep an eye out for.

1.   Redundancy risks

The possible relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions later this year will also bring the associated income protection measures to an end. The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, for instance, is due to end on March 31st. The impact of this could mean having to consider redundancies, although alternative options do exist.

Also due to expire at the end of March is the suspension of the employee right to claim redundancy after a specified period of short-time or lay-off. Come April, employers could face many redundancy payment requests from affected employees.

2.   The right to disconnect

The right to disconnect is a hot topic at the moment as so many employees work from home. In fact, the Government recently established an Interdepartmental Group with the aim of developing a national remote working strategy.

Furthermore, both Sinn Féin and the Labour Party have introduced private members bills that would give remote workers a statutory right to disconnect. The Workplace Relations Commission is also seeking submissions on the right to disconnect.

3.   Flexible working requests

The Irish Government must transpose an EU Directive on Work-Life Balance into law by August 2022. This would give employees the right to request flexible working conditions, something that working parents and those with caring responsibilities would welcome.

2020 had a massive impact on our working lives and many employees may continue to work from home. The requirements of this directive will likely feature in any changes to employment legislation.

4.   Statutory Sick Pay

At present, employers have no legal obligation to pay employees when they’re off due to sickness. However, statutory sick pay (SSP) could be introduced before the end of 2021 and may require an employer contribution. This would be an added expense for SMEs already under extreme financial pressure.

5.   Harassment risks

Having employees work from home enabled many businesses to continue operating through COVID-19. However, it has exposed employers to new forms of harassment risks.

For instance, video communications can turn inappropriate when homeworkers are working from somewhat of a “comfort zone”. Likewise, bullies may exploit remote working arrangements by using tactics like excluding victims from meetings.

This is why anti-harassment policies are so important. If you haven’t updated yours since setting employees up to work from home, do so now. They may be called upon in the future.

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