The Employment Equality Act, 1998

The Employment Equality Act came into force in October 1999. It provided Ireland with some of the most advanced equality laws in Europe especially when viewed along with the Equal Status Act, 2000. The Act broadens Irish legislation to outlaw discrimination on nine grounds – gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religious belief, age, disability, race and membership of the travelling community. It also defined sexual harassment and harassment for the first time in Irish law.

Under the Act all employment contracts are deemed to include equality and equal remuneration clauses. Discrimination on any of the nine grounds is now illegal in relation to a broad range of employment-related activities and situations. These include discrimination by the employer, discrimination in collective agreements, discriminatory advertising, discrimination by employment agencies, discrimination in vocational training and discrimination by certain bodies to include trade unions and professional and trade associations as regards membership and other benefits provided.

Other points to note include:

  • The Act also provides that employers may be found liable for the sexual harassment of employees by customers, clients or business contacts of the employer as well as by other employees. There is a defence available to employers that they took all the reasonable steps available to prevent the sexual harassment.
  • In relation to equal pay claims the person who the wages are being “compared” to need no longer be employed in the same place as the claimant.
  • This Act applies to the Defence Forces as opposed to previous employment legislation.
  • Indirect discrimination is defined as being “when practices or policies which do not appear to discriminate against one group more than another actually have a discriminatory impact”.
  • Pay is defined as excluding pension rights.
  • A provision is in place for employers to take “positive action” measures to promote equal opportunities in the workplace.

The Act provides for certain exemptions to the discriminatory grounds. For example many employers offer higher pay to employees with superior qualifications and this is permissible under the Act. For further information on any exemptions you should contact us at the details set out below.

The Act established the Equality Authority which works to eliminate discrimination both in and out of the workplace. Complaints under the Act are initially addressed to the Director of Equality Investigations who can make orders for equal pay and the payment of arrears of three years pay or six years pay in the case of gender discrimination. He can also make similar orders in equal treatment cases and in dismissal cases can order reinstatement to the job or can choose to award compensation. There is a right of Appeal to the Circuit Court in all cases. Complaints under the Act have been increasing every year since its implementation with an average of around 300 a year made.

For further information on the Employment Equality Act, 1998 or any other aspect of employment law please contact us.