For many years, Government policy in Northern Ireland was that employment law should be broadly in line with the law in Great Britain and the only main distinction was discrimination on grounds of religious belief and political opinion. Most of the legislation passed in Great Britain was enacted in Northern Ireland, but at times there could be a delay, sometimes stretching to years before the implementation of legislation into Northern Ireland. For example, the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order was passed in 1997, whereas the Race Relations Act 1976 was passed in Great Britain in 1976. Some legislation such as the Data Protection Act 1998 apply to Northern Ireland as well as the rest of the UK, while other legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 have been repealed in the UK, but still remain in force in Northern Ireland.

In practical terms most employees’ entitlements and obligations will be the same in Northern Ireland as in Great Britain. However, although the general employment rights will often be the same, the particular legal references may be different due to Northern Ireland specific legislation. For example, a reference in a contract of employment should be to the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 and not to the Employment Rights Act 1996. Particular care needs to be taken with compromise agreements because a failure to make reference to the appropriate legislation may affect the validity of the agreement. More information on compromise agreements can be found in this factsheet.

Following devolution in 1998, employment and discrimination law was a devolved power to the Northern Ireland Assembly, although confusingly, as highlighted above, some legislation such as the Data Protection Act 1998 and part of the TUPE Regulations apply to Northern Ireland as well as the rest of the UK. Within Northern Ireland responsibility in this area is split, with the Department of Employment and Learning for Northern Ireland (DELNI) being responsible for employment law, covering such issues as unfair dismissal, working time etc while equality/discrimination law is the responsibility of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the tribunals system comes under the responsibility of the Department of Justice for Northern Ireland.

There are five different political parties in the Northern Ireland Executive and any legislative change involves passing the Executive level, then undergoing a consultation process under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 which involves an equality impact assessment before going through the Northern Ireland Assembly. This can be a prolonged process.

There have been signs of a distinct divergence between the employment laws in Northern Ireland and those in Great Britain which is set to continue. So it is very important that HR practitioners with responsibility for employees in Northern Ireland are aware of the differences, in order to comply with the law. 

The main areas of divergence include:

  • discrimination legislation
  • disciplinary and grievance procedures
  • conciliation and tribunal procedures
  • redundancy consultation
  • compromise agreements.

There is an election for new members of the Northern Ireland Assembly on 5 May 2016 which could trigger a re-shuffle of the departments within the Northern Ireland Executive. Progress has also stalled on a number of employment law issues.

This members-only factsheet provides an introductory overview of the key differences and important areas of employment law and does not cover all employment law provisions.

In general terms the forms of discrimination in Northern Ireland are the same as in Great Britain – sex, marital status, race, sexual orientation (although in Northern Ireland the Civil Partnership Act 2004 applies, but not the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013), religious belief, disability and age.

Due to its history, Northern Ireland has had legislation prohibiting discrimination on grounds of religious belief and/or political opinion since 1976 and for over thirty years it has been a high profile political and legal issue. Also the very detailed procedures for monitoring, recording and reporting introduced in 1989 have had an impact on the level of information expected by courts and tribunals dealing with discrimination issues.

The introduction of the Equality Act 2010 in Great Britain maintains these ’protected characteristics’, but also brings into statute concepts of associative and perceptive discrimination and additional disability discrimination elements. On the whole, such legislative differences may not have a practical effect on managing and promoting equality in the workplace, but it will have an impact on disputes and employment litigation. There will be differences in how tribunals in Great Britain and Northern Ireland apply tests of discrimination and an increasing divergence in the body of case law in this area.

Although the Equality Act 2010 extends the existing discrimination law and protections, Northern Ireland employees will not get the direct benefit of the new legislation. However, employees in Northern Ireland will still have the benefit of the common law principles, such as perceptive and associative discrimination (see Coleman v Attridge Law and another [2008] IRLR 722 ECJ) which the Equality Act 2010 codified and of course, employers in Northern Ireland may extend the other protections such as to stop asking unnecessary pre-employment health questions.

The expected divergence in case law may lead to the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal and England and Wales Court of Appeal having less persuasive weight in Northern Ireland tribunals in the areas of divergence.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (The Commission) has published practical unified guidancefor employers to help them comply with discrimination legislation.

Age discrimination

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 contain similar provisions to those contained in the Equality Act 2010 in Great Britain. Likewise, the Employment Equality (Repeal of Retirement Age Provisions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 removed the default retirement age so employers can no longer apply a default retirement age without justification as is the case in Great Britain.

Discrimination on grounds of religious belief or political opinion

The main piece of legislation in this area is the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998.

Note the wider definition which includes political opinion and since 2003 the Fair Employment and Treatment Order (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 amended the 1998 Order to include ’similar philosophical belief’ in the definition of religious belief. Case law in Northern Ireland has confirmed that political opinion can include strong socialist or pro-trade union beliefs as well as more traditional splits between Nationalist and Unionist. Some of the cases involve claims against trade unions relating to belief or lack of belief in privatisation of public services. Claimants alleging less favourable treatment by reason of union activities often add to the normal claim with one of political discrimination, because there can be financial advantage in relation to awards made by a tribunal.

Registration, monitoring and reporting regime

The most important and fundamentally different aspect of discrimination law in Northern Ireland compared to Great Britain is the requirement set out in Articles 47-69 of Part 7 of the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998. This introduces a regime with no statutory equivalent in Western Europe, where employers have to register with the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland (The Commission), retain and record suitable data, file an annual monitoring report to The Commission and conduct periodic reviews. Only the main points are considered in this factsheet as there are detailed monitoring and reporting regulations.

Registration

Where a business employs more than ten people working 16 hours a week or more within Northern Ireland in any week then the employer must apply to The Commission for registration. This must be done within four weeks and it is a criminal offence to fail to register. The Commission publishes an annual list of all businesses that are registered. If there is a change of ownership then under Article 49 The Commission must be advised of this.

Monitoring

Articles 52-54 set out a requirement for employers to obtain from their employees information about their perceived religion and to provide this information in an annual monitoring return to the Commission. The format of the monitoring return is set out in the legislation. The information is required in relation to employees, applicants for jobs, appointees and apprentices. Those employing more than 250 people are required to submit additional information covering promotions and leavers. In practice, smaller employers are advised to retain such information because it will be relevant for the periodic review – see below.

It is a criminal offence to fail to file a return or to file an inaccurate return. The Commission provides guidance on completing monitoring returns and also on how to comply with the detailed monitoring regulations.

Periodic reviews

Under Article 55 each registered employer must at least once every three years review the composition of people employed in and ceasing to be employed in its workforce. It must do so for the purpose of determining whether members of the Roman Catholic and the Protestant communities are enjoying and are likely to continue to enjoy, fair participation in employment in the concern. The review involves a substantial level of work. The ability to complete it is very dependent upon the employer having kept full and accurate records of the religious background of all its employees, all job applicants and for larger employers, all applicants for promotion and all leavers.

The Commission may require to see a review and can give advice and later direction as to how this is to be carried out and as to the conclusions. It does request and consider these reviews and has on occasion required changes. In addition, a review can be required as a discoverable document in Tribunal and the statistics or other information contained in the review may be relevant to discrimination claims.

The Commission may undertake formal enquiries and require undertakings from an employer. It also can and on occasion does, require the setting of timetables by employers. The legislation stops short of recommending positive discrimination, but clearly allows for affirmative action. However, because of the complicated legal and technical issues surrounding affirmative action it is strongly recommended that affirmative action measures should only be introduced after consultation with The Commission.

Penalties on employers

Employers should be aware that as well as some breaches of the monitoring provisions being criminal offences, The Commission has available a substantial penalty that is not matched in Great Britain. Where The Commission considers that an employer is not affording equality of opportunity and where the employer has not complied with appropriate instructions or requirements from The Commission or given appropriate undertakings, The Commission may serve a notice that the employer is no longer qualified. An employer who is not qualified will not be permitted to obtain contracts for any work on behalf of Government or public bodies and will not be permitted to obtain grants otherwise available to businesses. For most employers in Northern Ireland this would create major problems and most public tendering processes require the employer to certify that it is qualified. In practice The Commission has almost never had to make use of this power because sensible employers will actively engage with it.

The monitoring and reporting regime is backed up by detailed regulations and also a detailed code of practice. If employers are unclear about the position it will usually be sensible to contact The Commission and obtain its advice/approval. One general effect of the detailed monitoring and reporting regime and the way in which this may be considered by a tribunal is that recruitment and appointment procedures need to be more detailed and more carefully documented than is sometimes the case in Great Britain. Tribunals in Northern Ireland are more willing to draw an inference from failures in procedure or in paperwork that unlawful discrimination has taken place. The practical effect is that employers/HR functions must have someone responsible for monitoring/reporting and for ensuring that recruitment and promotion procedures operate in line with the relevant codes of practice, even though this may take longer or require more resources.

Race discrimination

The Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 (RRNIO 1997) applies similar provisions to those under the Equality Act 2010 in Great Britain. However in Northern Ireland, the Irish travellers community is specifically defined as a racial group for the purposes of the legislation. In practice, claims are often brought not so much based on race, but on nationality, by way of a comparison with and alleging less favourable treatment of those in Ireland/Northern Ireland when compared with the treatment of other employees in England, Scotland or Wales. In the case of Faulkner and others v BT (Northern Ireland) and others [2008 NICA 39] the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal refused to rule on whether employees in Northern Ireland could compare themselves with employees in Great Britain in respect of bonuses and grading and the case was remitted to the Industrial Tribunal as Robert Johnston v BT Plc (unreported 3935/01IT 26 February 2010 NIIT). The Industrial Tribunal held that ’the claimant is not precluded from comparing himself, in the present context, with people who worked in Great Britain’ but went on to find that the difference in treatment could be justified.

The tribunals have struggled with whether being from Northern Ireland or being Northern Irish can constitute an appropriate grouping covered by the RRNIO 1997 and as a result claims continue to be brought along with claims under the Fair Employment Order involving religion or politics as well. In the tribunal, chairmen have dealt practically with this by giving consideration to discrimination on the grounds of not being for instance, English or Scottish.

Harassment - display of flags and emblems

Employers need to adjust harassment policies to take account of the particular concerns in Northern Ireland surrounding use of flags and emblems such as union jacks, tricolours, lilies and so on. Some football shirts are associated with different sides of the Northern Irish community and wearing a Rangers or Celtic shirt at work has been found to amount to harassment. In Brennan v Short Brothers plc (unreported, 63/92FET 1995, FET) the President of the Fair Employment Tribunal stated that ’if football shirts ’have sectarian significance’ they are not simply a ‘football shirt’ regardless of the intention with which they are worn. It has to be emphasised as often as is necessary that anything which identifies community allegiance needs justification in the workplace’. There is considerable case law about differing circumstances relating to flags and other emblems which may have political significance.

A neutral workplace has been more of an issue in 2012 as a result of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the Olympics. Employers have had to tread carefully so as not to be insensitive to any certain sector of their workforce, but also allow a sense of celebration by those who want to celebrate. The issue of the Olympics and the stocking of products with Union Jacks caused such a stir that the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland had to produce guidance for retailers.

There are certain symbols which are deemed not to cause offence so long as they are worn proportionately and with decorum, including poppies and shamrock. However, it would be normal for an employer to have a policy which provides times when such items are work, for how and the manner in which they are worn. Further guidance4 can be seen on the ECNI website.

Troubles-related convictions

Employers should refer to guidance5on the employment of people with troubles-related convictions published by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, but should be aware that this remains a sensitive issue with potential impact on employee and public relations.

Discrimination questionnaires

The removal of discrimination questionnaires in Great Britain on 6 April 2014 does not apply in Northern Ireland and there is no consultation on it as yet. Employers should assume that questionnaires remain.

Recruitment

Recruitment in Northern Ireland is specifically covered in the codes of practice issued by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (see codes of practice table below). Due to the issues raised in legislation, case law and the codes of practice in Northern Ireland, it is important that employers consider the following points when recruiting:

  • Ensuring that the job and the person specification are thoroughly developed and the employer can show how this was applied in recruiting and selecting the right candidates.
  • Ensuring that there are no discriminatory criteria to be applied.
  • Advertise widely to ensure a representative pool.
  • Using standard application forms to try to prevent details which could be provided through CVs and construed as discriminatory, for example age (age discrimination), school or hobbies (religion or political opinion discrimination).
  • Having properly constituted shortlisting and interview panels, to reflect equality as far as possible.
  • Ensuring that those involved in shortlisting and/or selection are trained in equal opportunities.
  • Ensuring good record keeping throughout the process.

More information and guidance on recruiting is available on the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland website (see Useful contacts).

Under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, public authorities carrying out their functions in Northern Ireland must have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status, between men and women, and between persons with a disability and persons without. Section 75 also requires public authorities to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between persons with dependents and persons without dependents.

The Act requires the public authorities to review their policies at intervals and, where considering changing any policy, to conduct where necessary an Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA). This will involve public consultation and so it can take considerable time. Private sector employers involved in tendering for public sector projects may well be asked to provide information and confirmation that their employment practices will follow appropriate guidelines and will assist a public authority in carrying out its obligation under section 75 of the Act.

The Commission has published both a short guideand more detailed guidance7 on public authorities’ obligations under Section 75.

In Great Britain the statutory disciplinary and grievance procedures were repealed on 6 April 2009 and replaced with the new Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. However, importantly in Northern Ireland the equivalent regulations, the Employment (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations remained in force.

Following a consultation period, the Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 came into force on 3 April 2011. The main effects of the Act are:

  • The statutory grievance procedure contained in the Employment (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 is repealed and is now replaced by the Code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures (see below). Non compliance with the Code by an employer may result in a tribunal, if it considers it just and equitable to do so, increasing any award by up to 50 per cent. Where the employee has failed to comply with the Code any award can be reduced by up to 50 per cent. In Great Britain the award can be reduced by up to 25 per cent.
  • Importantly, the Act retains for Northern Ireland in the long term the statutory three step minimum disciplinary procedure and a dismissal which fails to follow this procedure will remain automatically unfair and a tribunal will remain able to increase any award by reason of that by up to 50 per cent. In Great Britain the award can be increased by up to 25 per cent.
  • The statutory dismissal and disciplinary procedure applies to most terminations including redundancy and the termination of fixed-term contracts.
  • Former provisions allowing for an extension of time to bring a tribunal claim where statutory procedures are repealed. This should simplify the question of time limits, because the time limit for most matters will be three months from the date of termination or the act complained of.
  • The Act also brings in various technical changes to update Northern Ireland law on matters such as determination by a tribunal without a hearing, enforcement  of awards without the need for a county court Order, restriction of publicity and widening the power of the Fair Employment Tribunal to hear all claims which could be heard by an Industrial Tribunal, thus removing the need for two separate hearings.
  • The Act removes the limit on the time period during which the Labour Relations Agency can attempt to conciliate.

The qualifying period before an employee can bring a claim of unfair dismissal remains at one year and has not been increased to two years as in Great Britain and there seems to be no political appetite to change this in the future.

Although for practical purposes civil procedures in Northern Ireland and Great Britain are very similar, there are differences in organisation. Northern Ireland has a specific Fair Employment Tribunal to deal with claims of religious/political discrimination, with special panels for appointment of Tribunal members and to make a distinction from industrial tribunals which deal with other matters.

Employment tribunals in Northern Ireland therefore consist of the Fair Employment Tribunal and the industrial tribunals.  As in Great Britain, procedural matters (and some cases) are heard by a legally qualified person sitting alone.  Full hearings normally consist of the legally qualified person and two lay members. In Northern Ireland the legally qualified person is referred to as a Chairman, whereas in Great Britain they are Employment Judges.

In Great Britain any appeal from the decision of an employment tribunal goes to a special body, the Employment Appeals Tribunal. By contrast in Northern Ireland there is no equivalent to the Employment Appeals Tribunal. Until Easter 2010 an appeal had to be made by asking the Tribunal to state a case to the Court of Appeal, which meant that the Tribunal whose decision was being appealed against, framed the questions for the Court. Since then it is possible to make the application directly to the Court of Appeal, which will be a more satisfactory process.

Tribunals in Northern Ireland do not automatically make use of witness statements, although they will normally do so in discrimination cases.

By reason of recent rulings from the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal there are very few cases where a tribunal will permit a preliminary hearing, even on issues such as jurisdiction, meaning the claim has to go to a full hearing at which preliminary matters will be dealt with.

There is currently a Steering Advisory Committee reviewing the Tribunal Rules of Procedure and it is hoped that recommendations will be made early 2014 on ways to make the tribunal system in Northern Ireland more efficient and effective.

The following recent changes to tribunal procedures introduced in Great Britain do not apply in Northern Ireland:

  • The qualifying period before an employee can bring a claim of unfair dismissal remains at one year and has not been increased to two years as in Great Britain and there seems to be no political appetite to change this in the future.
  • There is only the statutory cap for compensation for unfair dismissal of £79,100 in Northern Ireland (this is capped at one year's salary or £78,962, whichever is lower, in Great Britain).
  • A weeks' pay in Northern Ireland for redundancy purposes is currently capped at £500 (capped at £479 in Great Britain).
  • Mandatory early conciliation whereby employees who are intending to make a claim to an employment tribunal must first notify Acas who will then attempt to settle the dispute was introduced in Great Britain but not in Northern Ireland.
  • The concept of ‘protected conversations’ does not apply in Northern Ireland and employers should use ‘without prejudice’ discussions carefully and only if they are sure if this is applicable.
  • There are additional powers for employment judges in Great Britain (but not for employment judges in Northern Ireland), including sitting alone in certain cases and having initial sifts to see if cases should be struck out early.
  • Employment tribunals in Great Britain can order employers who lose tribunal claims to pay a financial penalty on top of any award made to the claimant.
  • Most importantly, there are no fees applicable in Northern Ireland for a claimant to lodge or continue with a claim and there is no political appetite to change this in the future.

Industrial Court

The Industrial Court deals with union recognition/de-recognition. The union position in Northern Ireland is somewhat complicated because there is a range of active unions and some are part of larger Great Britain unions, some locally based in Northern Ireland and some part of larger unions in the Republic of Ireland.

The changes to compromise agreements implemented in Great Britain under the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 do not apply in Northern Ireland and such agreements have not been renamed settlement agreements'. If writing a compromise agreement for an employee based in Northern Ireland employers need to check that the legislative references are correct and also that the certificates are signed by a solicitor with an appropriate practicing certificate in Northern Ireland.

Care should be taken where there may be a substantial link to two or more jurisdictions. For example, a company in England employing a sales manager for Northern Ireland, but who also works in England two days a week may need to enter into two compromise agreements; one for Northern Ireland and one for England and Wales, or one agreement with references to the legislation in both jurisdictions.

Furthermore, the concept of protected conversations has not been introduced in Northern Ireland and therefore should not be used with Northern Ireland employees. However, Northern Ireland does retain, as in Great Britain, the concept of 'without prejudice' discussions. These are 'off the record conversations' which cannot normally be used in further proceedings, only where such conversations are entered into where there is an existing dispute between the parties. Legal advice should be sought if considering such action.

Despite the changes in Great Britain not applying in Northern Ireland, the DELNI has issued a consultation on employment changes, including changes in these areas.

For technical reasons when the revised Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 were brought into force the part which deals with a business transfer covers the whole of the UK. However the part which deals with service provision change does not extend to Northern Ireland and instead there is separate legislation - the Service Provision Change (Protection of Employment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006. For practical purposes this difference is really just an irritation but in the Northern Ireland legislation the definition of an organised grouping of employees for the purposes of service provision change is a group of employees situated in Northern Ireland whereas the Great Britain legislation refer to a group of employers situated in Great Britain.

Although Northern Ireland entered into joint consultations at the same time as Great Britain regarding the Tupe reforms, the changes which came into force in Great Britain under the Collective Redundancies and Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 on 31 January 2014 have not been brought into force in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland government has not made any firm decision on the implementation of the reforms and no draft amendments have been issued to date. 

Two-tier workforce

It is worth noting that the application of Tupe in public sector and local government contracting in England and Wales was subject to Government circulars on outsourcing, including:

  • the Code of Practice on Workforce Matters in Public Sector Service Contracts which applied to the public sector, and
  • the Code of Practice in Workforce Matters in Local Authority Service Contracts which applied to local government.

These were known as the two-tier workforce codes. In essence they stated that those employees moving from the public sector and local authorities to private sector employers should be no worse off. However, they went even further, in that they stated that any new employees who employers brought on after the transfer to work alongside the public sector and local authority workers should, likewise, not be on any less favourable terms. This avoided a two-tier workforce, but did have implications for pricing of contracts.

In England and Wales the two codes and associated guidance on a two-tier workforce in the public or local government sector were withdrawn in December 2010 and March 2011. The status of the guidance in Northern Ireland has always been somewhat ambiguous and with the withdrawal of the codes in England and Wales this has become more so. Some public providers continue to insist on provisions related to these codes in outsourcing contracts. Furthermore, the draft Local Government Best Value (Exclusion of Non-commercial Considerations) Order (Northern Ireland) 2011 and associated guidance appear to incorporate the principles of the past codes on the avoidance of a two-tier workforce into a new Northern Ireland code which is working its way through the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In Northern Ireland there has been no reduction in in the consultation period where there are 100 or more proposed redundancies, which remains at 90 days. Fixed term-employees are included in this number unlike in Great Britain.

The minimum number of holidays is in line with that in Great Britain, although DELNI is keeping this under review.

It is worth noting that the public/bank holidays in Northern Ireland are slightly different to Great Britain. The 12 July is a public holiday and many employees also take 13 July. The 17 March is also a bank holiday, but is not taken by all employees. When drafting holiday entitlement/procedures there is potential for a religious belief or political opinion discrimination claim if care is not taken about the allocation of holidays.

In Patterson v Castlereagh Borough Council (unreported, 1793/13 25 June 2014, IT) an industrial tribunal in Northern Ireland stated that it ‘had no hesitation in following, but also adopting, for the purposes of these proceedings, the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Bear Scotland’ and therefore it is assumed that the tribunals will follow the case law as it develops in Great Britain and the EU on holiday pay.

The Data Protection Act 1998 applies in Northern Ireland and the Information Commissioner operates in Northern Ireland. The Information Tribunal will sit in Northern Ireland as necessary.

When considering retention of data, employers should remember that in order to comply with The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland requirements for the periodic review it will be necessary to retain monitoring information and some information on recruitment, appointment or promotion applications for a period of at least three years. Such data is likely to be sensitive personal data.

Employee shareholder status was introduced on 1 September 2013 in Great Britain, but not in Northern Ireland. This new type of employment status allows employees to give up some of their employment rights in exchange for shares in their employer’s company.

Although not strictly legal divergence, it is worth noting the difference in cultural approach to employment related matters, including holidays (sensitivities around St Patrick's Day and 12 and 13 July), wearing of symbols (sensitivities around wearing poppies, shamrock etc), 'national holidays' (such as Royal Weddings) and Troubles Related Convictions.

There are a number of other employment areas in Northern Ireland which employers should be aware of.

Shared parental leave will apply in Northern Ireland and will be effective from April 2015 under the Work and Families (Northern Ireland) Act 2015. For more information see the Northern Ireland CIPD branch website.

Also under the Act the qualifying period for adoption leave will be removed and statutory adoption pay will be paid at 90 per cent of earnings for the first six weeks and primary adopters will be entitled to paid time off work to attend up to five introductory meetings before a child is placed with them for adoption. Secondary adopters will be entitled to unpaid time off to attend two such meetings. A similar right to take unpaid time off work is provided for the partners of new mothers to attend ante-natal appointments.

The right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees with at least 26 weeks' continuous employment.

Also in April 2015 the right to take unpaid parental leave will be extended to parents of any child under the age of 18.

Rates for statutory payments including statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay, statutory adoption pay and statutory sick pay are varied under the Social Security Benefits Up-Rating Orders in Northern Ireland.

The National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations which amend national minimum wage rates apply to Northern Ireland.

There are additions to prescribed persons for the purposes of whistleblowing under the Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons) (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) Order 2014.

The Statutory Sick Pay (Maintenance of Records) (Revocation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 revoke Regulation 13 of the previous 1982 Regulations regarding the retention of statutory sick pay records.

The Employment Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 (Blacklists) Regulations 2014 prohibit the compilation, use, sale or supply of blacklists of details of trade union activists where the purpose is to discriminate against workers on the grounds of trade union membership.  The Regulations amend the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.

In July 2013 the Department for Employment and Learning (DELNI) published a wide ranging consultation1 on possible changes to employment law in Northern Ireland which closed in November 2013. The Minister for Employment and Learning secured the Northern Ireland Executive’s approval to consult on a number of policy proposals, some of which were in consideration of the changes already brought in through initiatives such as the Red Tape Challenge in Great Britain. Despite the consultation period closing in November 2013 there has still not been a Government response or any proposals for change.

There are three main strands to the consultation document.

The first strand concerns the early resolution of workplace disputes and there is a proposal that all claims be routed through the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) by way of ‘early conciliation’. There is a proposal for a neutral assessment whereby an independent assessor may assess the potential outcome of a case if it was to be referred to the LRA arbitration service or tribunal. In order to embed good employment practice there are proposals to assist employers, especially in the SME sector, with compliance with employment law and the development of systems to effectively manage workplace relations.

The second strand deals with improving the experience of those using the Industrial Tribunal or the Fair Employment Tribunal. This strand is not formally part of the consultation as further consultation will follow separately in autumn 2013.  It is expected to cover a review of the Rules of Procedure for both tribunals with a proposal to have a single, simpler and more accessible set of rules and guidance.

The third strand deals with a number of discreet employment law proposals which seek to remove unnecessary administrative and financial burdens on employers. The proposals in this stand include:

  • Amending the qualifying period for bringing unfair dismissal claims.
  • Introducing a cap or other limits on compensatory awards for unfair dismissal claims.
  • A review of the implementation of the Collective Redundancies Directive in Northern Ireland, including the collective consultation period, the meaning of 'establishment' and the inclusion of fixed term employees in collective redundancy consultations.
  • A review of the existing policy for compromise agreements and the potential introduction of 'protected conversations'.
  • A review of the whistleblowing law under the Public Interest Disclosure (Northern Ireland) Order 1998, including restricting whistleblowing to disclosures which were made in the public interest and whether or not these are made in good faith, as well as dealing with the vicarious liability of the employer for instances of bullying or harassment against individuals who blow the whistle by co-workers.

There are unlikely to be changes in Northern Ireland similar to those in Great Britain as Paragraph 1.2 of the Discussion Paper suggests that simply mirroring the UK Government's review ‘would not be consistent with the Programme for Government, which is about developing regional solutions that are more sensitive to the particular needs of individual citizens and local businesses’. Furthermore, as mentioned above, proposed employment law changes need to go through a prolonged process and so it is likely that any changes arising from the proposals and consultation will be a long way off. However, commentators predict that the following proposals may be taken forward in draft legislation later in 2015 with possible enactment in 2016, but this is far from certain.

  • Mandatory early conciliation whereby all claims to the industrial tribunals will be routed through the Labour Relations Agency for conciliation between the parties.
  • Neutral Assessment of claims to try to deal with claims at an early stage.
  • Changes to the collective redundancy procedures which could see the consultation period for 100 or more proposed redundancies reduced to 45 days and the removal of fixed term employees from counting toward those numbers.
  • A removal of the Sodhexo loophole under the whistleblowing legislation.

A comparison of the principal Northern Ireland and Great Britain employment law is provided below. There are many other pieces of legislation and it is important that employers working on a particular problem take care to check which legislation applies.

Northern Ireland: Equal Pay Act (Northern Ireland) 1970
Great Britain: Equal Pay Act 1970 | Equality Act 2010


Northern Ireland: Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976
Great Britain: Sex Discrimination Act 1975 | Equality Act 2010


Northern Ireland: Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978
Great Britain: Health and Safety at Work Act 1974


Northern Ireland: Judicature Act (Northern Ireland) 1978
Great Britain: Supreme Court Act 1981


Northern Ireland: Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1978
Great Britain: Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974


Northern Ireland: Wages (Northern Ireland) Order 1988
Great Britain: Wages Act 1986


Northern Ireland: Fair Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 1989
Great Britain: No equivalent


Northern Ireland: Access to Personal Files and Medical Reports (Northern Ireland) Order 1991
Great Britain: Access to Medical Reports Act 1988


Northern Ireland: Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The Act itself applies to Northern Ireland, with seven Orders in Counsel for Northern Ireland to bring the legislation into effect
Great Britain: Disability Discrimination Act 1995 | Equality Act 2010


Northern Ireland: Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996
Great Britain: Employment Rights Act 1996


Northern Ireland: Race Relations Order (Northern Ireland) 1997
Great Britain: Race Relations Act 1976 | Equality Act 2010


Northern Ireland: Trade Union and Labour Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1995
Great Britain: Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992


Northern Ireland: Data Protection Act 1998
Great Britain: Data Protection Act 1998


Northern Ireland: Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998
Great Britain: No direct equivalent, although similar religious discrimination provisions are contained in the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 or Equality Act 2010


Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland Act 1998
Great Britain: No equivalent


Northern Ireland: Public Interest Disclosure (Northern Ireland) Order 1998
Great Britain: Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998


Northern Ireland: National Minimum Wage Act 1998
Great Britain: National Minimum Wage Act 1998


Northern Ireland: Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1998
Great Britain: Working Time Regulations 1998


Northern Ireland: Employment Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1999
Great Britain: Employment Relations Act 1999


Northern Ireland: Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999
Great Britain: Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations 1999


Northern Ireland: Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999
Great Britain: Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 or Equality Act 2010


Northern Ireland: Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000
Great Britain: Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000


Northern Ireland: Sex Discrimination (Indirect Discrimination and Burden of Proof) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2001
Great Britain: Sex Discrimination (Indirect Discrimination and Burden of Proof) Regulations 2001 | Equality Act 2010


Northern Ireland: Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2002
Great Britain: Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002


Northern Ireland: Employment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 and the Employment (Northern Ireland) Order 2003
Great Britain: Employment Act 2002


Northern Ireland: Flexible Working (Eligibility, Complaints and Remedies) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 and Flexible Working (Procedural Requirements) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003
Great Britain: Flexible Working (Eligibility, Complaints and Remedies) Regulations 2002 and Flexible Working (Procedural Requirements) Regulations 2002


Northern Ireland: Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003
Great Britain: Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 | Equality Act 2010


Northern Ireland: Employment (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2004
Great Britain: Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations 2004


Northern Ireland: Employment Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 2004
Great Britain: Employment Relations Act 2004


Northern Ireland: Civil Partnership Act 2004
Great Britain: Civil Partnership Act 2004


Northern Ireland: Gender Recognition Act 2004
Great Britain: Gender Recognition Act 2004


Northern Ireland: Industrial Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005 and the Fair Employment Tribunal (Rules of Procedure) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005
Great Britain: Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2004


Northern Ireland: Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005
Great Britain: Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004


Northern Ireland: Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006
Great Britain: Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 or Equality Act 2010


Northern Ireland: Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006
Great Britain: Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006


Northern Ireland: Service Provision Change (Protection of Employment) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2006
Great Britain: Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006


Northern Ireland: Work and Families (Northern Ireland) Order 2006
Great Britain: Work and Families Act 2006


Northern Ireland: Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006
Great Britain: Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 | Health Act 2006


Northern Ireland: Working Time (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007
Great Britain: Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2007


Northern Ireland: Flexible Working (Eligibility, Complaints and Remedies) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010
Great Britain: Flexible Working (Eligibility, Complaints and Remedies) (Amendment) Regulations 2009


Northern Ireland: No equivalent, but see Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 for repeal of statutory procedures
Great Britain: Employment Act 2008


Northern Ireland: No equivalent, but see Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 (on time off for training)
Great Britain: Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009


Northern Ireland: No equivalent
Great Britain: Equality Act 2010


Northern Ireland: Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011
Great Britain: No equivalent


Northern Ireland: The Industrial Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 and The Fair Employment Tribunal (Rules of Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011
Great Britain: No equivalent


Northern Ireland: The Agency Workers Regulations (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2011
Great Britain: The Agency Workers Regulations 2010


Northern Ireland: The Employment Equality (Repeal of Retirement Age Provisions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011
Great Britain: The Employment Equality (Repeal of Retirement Age Provisions) Regulations 2011


Northern Ireland: The Parental Leave (EU Directive) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2013
Great Britain: The Parental Leave (EU Directive) Regulations 2013


Northern Ireland: No equivalent. There has been a consultation on a number of the changes implemented in Great Britain including mandatory early conciliation and reform of the law on whistleblowing which was due to close on 5 November 2013. The removal of discrimination questionnaires will not apply in Northern Ireland and there is no consultation on it as yet. Employers should assume that questionnaires remain.
Great Britain: The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 which implemented a number of key changes in Great Britain which are not applicable in Northern Ireland.


Northern Ireland: No equivalent
Great Britain: The Collective Redundancies and Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 2014


Northern Ireland: Work and Families Act (Northern Ireland) 2015
Great Britain: Children and Families Act 2014 and regulations


There are a range of codes of practice usually issued by either the Labour Relations Agency, or the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland or the Department of Employment and Learning for Northern Ireland. The provisions of some of these do vary significantly from equivalent codes of practice in Great Britain, some of them being much longer and more detailed. In particular the Fair Employment in Northern Ireland code of practice relating to discrimination on grounds of religious belief or political opinion includes significant details about monitoring, recruitment and appointments which need to be taken into account.

The principal codes of practice currently in force are:

  • Code of practice on disclosure of information to trade unions for collective bargaining purposes - Issued by Labour Relations Agency
  • Code of practice on time off for trade union duties and activities - Issued by Labour Relations Agency
  • Code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures - Issued by Labour Relations Agency Fair employment in Northern Ireland code of practice - Issued by Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
  • Code of practice on removing sex bias from recruitment and selection - Issued by Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
  • Code of practice on equal pay - Issued by Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
  • Code of practice for the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of equality of opportunity in employment - Issued by Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
  • Disability discrimination code of practice on employment and occupation - Issued by Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
  • Disability code of practice: trade organisations and qualifications bodies - Issued by Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
  • Code of practice: access and unfair practices during recognition and derecognition ballots - Issued by Department of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland
  • Code of practice on industrial action ballots and notice to employers - Issued by Department of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland
  1. THE DEPARTMENT FOR EMPLOYMENT AND LEARNING (2013) Public consultation on Employment law review [online]. Belfast, Department for Employment and Learning.

Contacts

Books

LABOUR RELATIONS AGENCY. (2016) NI v GB law: key differences in employment law between NI and GB. Belfast, LRA. 

MCMANUS, M. and GILLEN, P. (2013) Comparative analysis of employment law in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland [online]. Belfast, Pinsent Masons. 

Visit the CIPD Store to see all our priced publications currently in print.

Journals

GILLEN, P. (2011) Northern Ireland employment law [online]. PM Online. 3 June. 

CIPD members can use our online journals to find articles from over 300 journal titles relevant to HR.

Members and People Management subscribers can see articles on the People Management website.

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