Monday, December 14, 2015

Ireland - Recent Developments

By Deirdre Lynch, BYRNEWALLACE, Dublin, Ireland


Bullying is not defined in legislation in Ireland. However, the Health and Safety Authority’s Code of Practice on Bullying defines the term. This definition has been widely accepted in case-law on the issue. Bullying is defined in the Code as "repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment, which could reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual‘s right to dignity at work.” As will be apparent, this definition has a number of elements.

In May 2014, the High Court awarded damages in the sum of €255,000, comprising general and special damages, in a bullying claim, Ruffley v Board of Management of St. Anne's School. The employee had been employed as special needs assistant in a school and the High Court held that the grossly unfair disciplinary process which had been followed amounted to bullying. The school appealed the decision.

The Court of Appeal has now overturned the High Court's decision. By a majority, the Court of Appeal found that the manner in which the employee had been treated did not fall within the definition of bullying set out in Irish Law. This decision will be widely welcomed by employers in Ireland.

In finding in favour of the employee, the High Court had held that she had been subjected to bullying. By way of background, the employee had worked for the school in question for over 14 years. She was employed as a special needs assistant. An incident occurred in September 2009 when she was with a pupil in the school’s sensory room. The principal of the school had tried to gain entry to the room in question; however it was locked. A disciplinary process followed. The disciplinary process itself was not conducted appropriately and had a significant number of flaws.

The High Court had concluded that the manner in which Ms. Ruffley had been treated during the disciplinary process fell within the legal definition of bullying. However, the Court of Appeal has now concluded that such treatment did not fall within the definition of bullying and that whilst the disciplinary process was conducted in a "hopelessly flawed manner", the school's conduct did not come anywhere close to meeting the established legal definition of bullying.

2. BUDGET 2016

The Irish Government recently delivered its 2016 Budget. A number of its provisions are relevant to companies employing individuals in Ireland, including:-

The minimum wage will increase from €8.65 to €9.15 per hour from 1 January 2016. The employer social insurance threshold will also be increased in order to offset the higher cost businesses may face as a result of the increase to the minimum wage.

Until now, Ireland has had one of the most limited paternity leave regimes in Europe (a father could only take leave in the circumstances where a mother died during her maternity leave and the father became entitled to the balance of the leave). However, from September 2016, two weeks’ paid paternity benefit will be introduced.