How to follow the rules on hiring and firing

Being compliant with employment law when it comes to HR and in particular hiring and dismissing employees will save SMEs time and money, writes John Cradden.

Making sure your company is complying with employment law can feel like walking a very long and wobbly tightrope, particularly as more employment-related directives from the EU are incorporated into Irish legislation.

It can take a good bit of time and money, but making sure you are HR compliant in 2024 will significantly reduce the risk of major penalties, fees and possibly litigation.

“It’s all very well giving your employees copies of the company’s policies and procedures, but assuming that they will be able to comply with them all without some form of induction or training is probably a risk”

So what are the HR principles that business owners need to be aware of in 2024?

1. Get your documentation in order

Ensure your HR documentation – policies and procedures, handbooks and contracts of employment – are all drafted in accordance with employment law and kept up to date. Do your current handbooks state the current National Minimum Wage rate of €11.30 per hour? Do they include information about the new Parents Leave and the recent increase to the Parental Leave entitlement?

2. Contracts

Ensure that all employees have written contracts of employment. Since 2019 and as per the 2018 Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, employers must provide employees with a written statement of the core terms within five days of their starting date. These could include your job title, the date you started, the way your pay is calculated, the duration of any probationary period, and the duration of your working day and week. They should also have clear terms and conditions and job descriptions, and a requirement to sign their acceptance of any confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses.

3. Be prepared for a WRC inspection

If you need a good indication of the minimum requirements in order to be fully HR compliant, then being prepared for a WRC (Workplace Relations Commission) inspection at any time is a good way to get yourself up to speed. Normally these inspections, which check whether you are compliant with employment law, will be flagged in advance, but in many cases the inspector may also call in unannounced. Any breaches may result in the WRC seeking a some resolution on behalf of the employee/s affected, or possibly a bring a prosecution.

4. Provide appropriate training

It’s all very well giving your employees copies of the company’s policies and procedures, but assuming that they will be able to comply with them all without some form of induction or training is probably a risk. Any induction process for new employees should include training on such policies as bullying and harassment, dignity at work, and equal opportunities. It’s good policy to organise refresher courses every few years to reduce the risk of future claims and show that you are committed to treating your employees fairly and equally.

5. Investigate grievances fully

There are many reasons why it’s important to investigate fully any employee grievances, but chief among these is to avoid the risk of the issue being left to fester and possibly evolve into a larger one later on. There is plenty of information available about how investigations can and should be conducted, but ultimately it’s up to your firm and your employee representatives to agree how it should be done, the different stages and who should be involved.

6. Apply disciplinary actions fairly

When you are satisfied that you have found an employee to have violated a policy, it’s important to follow disciplinary actions as laid out in the relevant policy or procedure. If you ensure that any disciplinary actions are fair, carefully considered and represent a proportionate response to the issue, this should reduce the risk of facing any litigation on the grounds of employment equality legislation.

7. Consider potential AI issues

There are issues in relation to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) that employers should be aware of. Many companies are embracing the use of AI as part of their recruitment processes, including for interviews but also performance analytics, which is about analysing the skills you have and skills gaps. AI also has the potential to eliminate unconscious or cognitive biases in the recruitment process, as well improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Whatever you use AI for, make sure you keep up to speed with the risks involved and any potential pitfalls as they evolve.

8. Equip your team to address GDPR compliance

You must comply with your data protection obligations when collecting CVs and related information about individuals, but you may need to invest some resources into this. As many as one-third of HR professionals have reported significant skills gaps that hampered their ability to become GDPR compliant, according to a recent survey by Clare-based HR software firm HRLocker. Almost two-thirds (62%) said that the admin burden negatively impacted their ability to focus on other responsibilities such as employee wellbeing, talent acquisition and resource planning.

9. Ensure staff take their leave entitlements

It’s important to ensure that staff benefit from whatever leave they are legally or contractually entitled too, whether that’s annual leave, sick leave, maternity or paternity leave, parental leave, carer’s leave etc.

John Cradden
John Cradden is an experienced business and personal finance journalist and financial wellbeing content designer.