Quick guide for grads to your rights in the workplace

You must be given a written statement of “core terms” within five days of starting your job

If you work for an employer for a regular wage or salary, you automatically have a contract. Photograph: iStockphoto

Among the most challenging jumps in the transition facing graduates as they exit the education system comes in dealing with the rigours – and occasionally rancours – of the workplace when they find a job.

But Ireland has strong employment laws designed to protect workers’ rights by ensuring employers provide fair pay, as well as safe and healthy working environments free from discrimination and harassment.

The first thing to understand is that your rights depend upon the terms of your employment. If you are hired under what’s called “a contract of service” – a contract in other words – you are protected by employment legislation.

If you work for an employer for a regular wage or salary, you automatically have a contract. You must be given a written statement of “core terms” within five days of starting your job and you must be given the remaining terms of employment in writing within one month.


If you are hired under a “contract for services”, this means your employer is hiring you as an independent contractor or self-employed person for a job. If you have this type of contract, you may not have the same rights as an employee under employment legislation.

Now to the important stuff – the money. The national minimum wage is €12.70 per hour, so that’s the bare minimum. You must be given a pay slip every time you are paid your wages, and this should show your gross wage and details of all deductions.

It is also important to note that your maximum average working week cannot be more than 48 hours, so don’t forget to tot those up.

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You are also entitled to take breaks while you are at work and have rest periods between working days or nights.

You entitled to a 15-minute break when you have worked more than four and a half hours; a 30-minute break when you have worked more than six hours; and you are entitled to a daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours per 24-hour period.

As well as your right to take breaks, you also have a right to “disconnect” from work outside of normal working hours. This also applies to people working from home.

In the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC)’s code of practice for employers and employees on the right to disconnect, WRC director general Liam Kelly makes the point that the world of work has “changed profoundly” over recent years.

“Technological advances mean that we are always contactable and accessible,” he notes. “Where, when and how we work continues to change at an accelerating pace.

“Employers and employees are experiencing both challenges and benefits arising from new ways of working including remote and flexible working arrangements, which encapsulates how long, where, and at what times employees work as well as the location of where work gets done.

“While different working arrangements may suit different employees within their respective business environments, the right to be able to maintain clear boundaries between work and leisure is universal.”

The code applies to all types of employment, whether you are working remotely, in a fixed location, at home or are mobile.

So what about leave? Most employees are entitled to four weeks’ paid annual leave per year. However, your contract of employment may give you more annual leave than the statutory entitlement. Full-time employees are also entitled to 10 public holidays each year.

You also have the right to five days paid sick leave a year. Sick pay is paid by your employer at 70 per cent of your normal pay up to a maximum of €110 a day.

If you are a parent or about to become one, you should also know that all employees are entitled to parental leave from work immediately before and after the birth of their child.

Furthermore, your employer is responsible for ensuring you have a safe workplace. This includes protection from violence, harassment, bullying, privacy and data protection.

Now, but what if you get into difficulty? Remember that employees have a right under the Constitution to join a trade union. You can join the union of your choice and can leave a union at any time.

You cannot be discriminated against or dismissed from your job because you are a member of a union.

If you’re interested, check if there is already a union representative in your workplace. There may be more than one union in your workplace. The union representative will be able to help you join and act as a first point of contact for union-related matters.

Should the worst happen and you are being dismissed from your job or made redundant, you have certain entitlements including notice and pay for annual leave built up but not taken.

The amount of notice you are entitled to by law depends on how long you have been working for your employer.

Should you choose to challenge a dismissal, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and the Workplace Relations Commission are separate organisations that work to ensure equality at work and that your rights are upheld.

In some cases you can get legal assistance from the IHREC if you want to bring a claim to a tribunal.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter