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Latest HR News

ECJ may find that obesity is a disability – Employers beware.

ObesityLast Thursday, 12th June, the European Court of Justice heard a landmark discrimination case that was brought by Karsten Kaltoft of Denmark. Mr. Kaltoft alleges that he was discriminated against when he was dismissed by his employer because of his weight (approximately 25 stone). The case is the first of its kind to be referred to the EU and could have extensive consequences.

The Danish man was employed by his local authority – Billund local authority - as a child-minder. Kaltoft claims that his weight did not affect his ability to perform his child-minding duties; however, the Court heard that he was unable to do tasks like tying a child’s shoe laces without a colleague’s help.

The question that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) must consider is whether Mr Kaltoft’s obesity falls within the classification of a “disability” under EU law.

The Court’s decision, which is expected in a few weeks, will alter the EU’s Directive on Employment Equality which outlaws discrimination on disability grounds.

The Court’s decision will be binding across all EU member states, including Ireland.

If Kaltoft is successful in his arguments, obesity will be redefined so as to be categorised as a disability.


The USA has already seen several individual workers receive compensation from their former employers as a result of being dismissed due to their obese status.

Until now, the UK courts have rejected obesity as a disability in its own right; however, if the ECJ finds that Mr. Kaltoft was, in fact, unfairly dismissed, employers throughout Europe will be bound by the ECJ ruling and will be forced to treat obesity as a disability going forward. Such a decision would, in future, force employers to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments - for instance, they may have to provide preferential access to parking (as is currently the case for disabled drivers). The ECJ ruling could also restrict employers from rejecting job candidates because of their weight.

According to a 2011 Oireachtas Library & Research Service report, ‘Obesity – a growing problem’, a staggering 61% of adults in Ireland are overweight or obese.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number calculated based on a person’s weight and height. Anyone with a BMI of 30 or more is classed as clinically obese.

Employers must pay attention to the ECJ decision in the Kaltoft obesity case as it may establish a precedent across all EU member states which could have major implications for employers.

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Employing Young People – Under 18s Register

Under 18 RegisterThe Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1996 is designed to protect the health of young workers and places restrictions on their employment. The basis for this is to guarantee the protection of young people and to ensure the workload assumed is not jeopardising their education.

The law sets minimum age limits for employment. It also sets rest intervals and maximum working hours, and prohibits employees under the age of 18 from working late at night. Employers must also keep specified records for those workers who are under the age of 18.

During a National Employment Rights Authority (NERA) assessment the inspector will request access to the company’s register of employees under the age of 18 (if the company employs workers in this category). 


There are strict rules that employers must adhere to when employing those under the age of 18.

According to the Act employers cannot employ children under the age of 16 in regular full-time jobs. 

Children aged 14 and 15 may be employed on a controlled basis.

Some rules to pay attention to:

•They can do light work during the school holidays – 21 days off must be given during this period.

•They can be employed as part of an approved work experience or educational programme where the work is not harmful to their health, safety or development.

•They can be employed in film, cultural/advertising work or sport under licences issued by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

•Children aged 15 may do a maximum of 8 hours of light work per week during the school term. The maximum working week for children outside of the school term is 35 hours (or up to 40 hours if they are on approved work experience).

•The maximum working week for children aged 16 and 17 is 40 hours with a maximum of 8 hours per day.

 Under 18s

There are many obligations on the employer when he or she employs a young person – here is a list of some of the items that employers must be vigilant of:

An employer must be provided with a copy of the young person’s birth certificate (or other documentation proving age) prior to the commencement of employment.

Break rules are: 30 minutes break after working 4.5 hours

Before employing a child an employer must obtain the written permission of the parent or guardian of the child.

An employer must maintain a register of employees under 18 containing the following information:

•The full name of the young person or child

•The date of birth of the young person or child

•The time the young person or child commences work each day

•The time the young person or child finishes work each day

•The rate of wages or salary paid to the young person or child for his or her normal working hours each day, week, month or year, as the case may be, and

•The total amount paid to each young person or child by way of wages or salary

Download your copy of our Under 18s Register here:


Under 18s Register


An employer and parent/guardian who fails to comply with the provisions of the Act shall be guilty of an offence. 

Some other notable rules the employer must adhere to when employing a young person or child are as follows:

•The employer is obliged to ensure that the young person receives a minimum rest period of 12 consecutive hours in each period of 24 hours.

•The employer is obliged to ensure that the young person receives a minimum rest period of 2 days which shall, where possible, be consecutive, in any 7 day period.

•The employer cannot require or permit the young person to do work for any period without a break of at least 30 consecutive minutes.

For a comprehensive guide to employer responsibilities and the rules and regulations governing the employment of young workers please refer to the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1996

You must give employees a copy of the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act

docs/Protection of Young Persons Employment Act 1996.pdf


Under 18 Employees

The national minimum wage for an experienced adult employee is €8.65 per hour.  An experienced adult employee for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage Act is an employee who has an employment of any kind in any 2 years since the age of 18.

The Act also provides the following sub-minimum rates;  

    • An employee who is under 18 is entitled to €6.06 per hour (this is 70% of the minimum wage)
    • An employee who is in the first year of employment since the age of 18 is entitled to €6.92 per hour (80% of minimum wage)
    • An employee who is in the second year of employment since the date of first employment over the age of 18 is entitled to €7.79 per hour (90% of the minimum wage)


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Advice for Employers during World Cup 2014

World Cup - Employment IssuesAs  I am sure you are aware, World Cup 2014 is starting today and we want to ensure that you are prepared as an employer, in the event that employee issues arise as a result of this tournament, particularly attendance at work during games and on the day following games.

The World Cup is commencing today, 12th June, and runs until 13th July. Employees should have requested this time off by now or in the coming days if they wish to take annual leave during this time for matches.

The main issues that could arise as a result of World Cup 2014, for employers, is that employees will be seeking additional time off either as annual leave or unscheduled time off. Unauthorised absence/increased sick leave may also be an issue for employers. Most games will be in the evening time - those employers who have evening/night shifts will need to be particularly prepared and pre-empt absence.

You as an employer, will first need to establish what your policy is to be during this period. Once you have decided the stance you wish to take with employees during this period, you will need to ensure this policy is clearly outlined to employees in the coming days to ensure they are clear about what is expected of them.

Sick Leave resized 600


In deciding what you want to enforce for employees, you should pay attention to the following:

  • Inform employees that, if they wish to take time off, they must apply for annual leave immediately - and let them know that it will be on a first come, first served basis

  • Perhaps give staff the opportunity to swap shifts with colleagues who may not be interested in the matches - ensure all shifts are adequately covered.

  • Be mindful of your employees who are not football lovers and do not want to take any time off during these games. Ensure there is fair treatment between all staff and ensure football fans are not getting special treatment and additional time off over those who do not follow the game.

  • Make it clear that all employees are expected to be in work as normal, unless they have requested time off etc., during World Cup 2014. Outline that you expect productivity and attendance etc., to remain as it is currently.

  • You could outline that for any absences during this time (within reason), due to illness; employees are required to provide a medical certificate upon their return.

  • Employees may also arrive to work still under the influence of alcohol. If this is discovered, you need to act fast. Send the employee to the company doctor immediately to be checked by the doctor to establish if the employee is under the influence of alcohol. If the employee is found to be under the influence he/she should be sent home.  It may be time to engage a disciplinary process with the employee at this stage.

  • If applicable, you may consider screening the games in house as a goodwill gesture to employees.  

    • Be mindful if there are a number of matches on, you will need to allow employees have their say on which match is shown..

  • Employees may attempt to stream matches online on work computers, the company’s internet usage policy should be outlined to employees and the company’s expectations also outlined to employees here.

The key to avoiding any issues during World Cup 2014 is to make sure you clearly outline to staff (in advance), what is expected of them and that absences etc., will not be tolerated.

The above advice is courtesy of Lorraine Byrne, Senior Account Manager at The HR Company.

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EAT Awards €11.5k To Employee Dismissed After Criminal Conviction

Criminal Conviction

Unfair DismissalIt is crucial to exercise extreme care when dismissing an employee – even if he or she has been convicted of a serious criminal offence and even in instances where your discipline policy permits dismissal on conviction. A former employee of a multinational retailer was recently awarded €11,500.00 in compensation for being unfairly dismissed after being convicted of a serious criminal offence. 

The Employment Appeals Tribunal heard testimony from a large multinational retailer (respondent) and a former employee (claimant) who claimed to have been unfairly dismissed by his employer of 15 years after being convicted of a criminal offence.

According to the Employment Appeals Tribunal Report, at the time the claimant was dismissed, in September 2011, he was working as a charge hand in one of the respondent’s stores. The claimant’s disciplinary record with the respondent, apart from the issue for which he was dismissed, was clean when his employment was terminated.

In 2009 the employee had been charged with the criminal offence of possession of an illegal substance with the intention to sell it. According to the claimant, when he was charged with the criminal offence he informed the then Store Manager and continued as normal in his employment thereafter.


According to the claimant, he informed the new Store Manager and the Personnel Manager in April 2011 that he would need time off to attend Court in July of that year. The respondent claimed that he had informed the company of his requirement for time off in July rather than in April.

The Claimant was absent for approximately one month from early July to early August due to an injury. During that month he attended Court and received an eight-month suspended sentence in light of his guilty plea.

On 2nd August 2011, the then Store Manager held a meeting during which the claimant confirmed that he had received a conviction. The claimant was informed that this could have repercussions on his employment status with the company and that it could result in dismissal after investigation. He was suspended with pay while an investigation was carried out.

A number of investigation meetings were held with the claimant. A Union representative was present and a number of issues were raised in the meetings. It came to light that the store’s Personnel Manager had provided a character reference for the claimant in advance of the trial in addition to a standard reference from the company.

Employment Rights

The respondent pointed out that the character reference that was provided by the Personnel Manager was not on company headed paper and therefore was an unofficial letter, however, the Union representative nullified this point by highlighted the fact that numerous letters regarding the meetings between the claimant and the respondent were also on non-headed paper but were considered  official.

*At the Hearing, in February 2014, the respondent confirmed that it stood over the character reference as well as the standard company reference that had been provided to the claimant.

A notable issue raised during the course of the meetings related to the claimant’s conviction bringing the company into disrepute. The Union representative stated that the conviction had not been reported in the news and enquired as to how the company’s name was in disrepute. The Union representative asked how other employees with convictions had been disciplined.

Disciplinary Procedure Chart


Due to the nature of the conviction, once the investigation was concluded, the Store Manager decided to invoke the disciplinary procedure. The respondent was concerned about the drug conviction and the impact it would have on customers entering the store if it became public knowledge.

A meeting was held on the 20th September 2011 with a subsequent meeting on the 26th September 2011. At the second meeting, the claimant was informed that he was dismissed on the grounds of serious misconduct under the following headings:

  • Conviction by a Court of law for any serious criminal offence considered damaging to the company or its employees.
  • Conduct which brings the company’s good name into disrepute.

Employment appeals Tribunal, EAT


The claimant decided to appeal the decision and his representative wrote a letter detailing the appeal grounds. The Appeal Officer was the Manager of another of the respondent’s stores. The Appeal Officer was asked to hear the appeal but was not provided with the letter setting out the grounds of appeal.

At the appeal meeting the Appeal Officer listened to the claimants grounds of appeal and went on to investigate each one afterwards. The Appeal Officer travelled to the store where the claimant had been employed so that he could review his personnel file. However, he did not speak to the Store Manager, the Personnel Manager or anyone else working at that store in relation to the claimant.

The Appeal Officer considered the issues raised by the claimant including, firstly, the fact that he had kept the company apprised, secondly, the fact that he was provided with a character reference from the Personnel Manager for Court and, finally, that the conviction was not in the public domain.

The Appeal Officer considered the notes from the meetings held with the claimant when considering the appeal. Given the grounds of appeal he did not deem it necessary to speak to anyone other than the claimant. In concluding his consideration of the appeal he upheld the decision to dismiss as he found that the claimant’s conviction could easily bring the company into disrepute. When cross-examined at the Employment Appeals Tribunal Hearing, the Appeal Officer confirmed that he did not find evidence that customers or members of the public were aware of the claimant’s conviction but he did consider how it would be viewed if it came into public domain.


EAT, Unfair Dismissal

The Employment Appeals Tribunal found that the dismissal was unfair. It found that the company’s procedures, particularly in relation to the appeal process, were insufficient and it should have considered sanctions other than dismissal. While dismissal was an option open to the respondent under their disciplinary procedure, it should have genuinely considered alternative sanctions in light of the claimant’s otherwise clean employment record and because he had made efforts to keep the company apprised of the situation.

The dismissal of the claimant was deemed by the Tribunal to be procedurally unfair. The Tribunal found that the evidence of the Appeal Officer regarding the appeal procedures fell well short of what is normally accepted as being fair.

While the nature of the complaint against the employee was serious, the employer should have considered the fifteen years of exemplary employment prior to this.

After considering all elements involved in this case, the Tribunal determined that €11,500 should be paid in compensation to the claimant under the Unfair Dismissals Acts, 1977 to 2007.

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Recent Labour Court Cases