HR/Employment Law Services

Why “How long does the consultation last?” is the wrong question

“How long is the consultation?” is a question I often hear being asked of whoever answers the phone in my office in Enfield. But it is a meaningless, irrelevant question.

Let me explain why by reference to two stories.

New York apartment block

The first one is about a sparkling, new New York apartment being completed about 25 years ago. Shortly before the opening and launch of the development a serious problem became apparent. Every floor of the twenty five storey block was affected by some type of reaction between the paint used and the plaster in the walls and ceilings.

It turned out that an unknown and unforeseen chemical reaction was the source of the problem. But nobody had a solution, save for one man. This quiet, unassuming chemist-let’s call him Bob-knew what the problem was because he had done a PhD some 25 years prior about this very reaction in new buildings.

When Bob’s help was requested he said he would be happy to help and had only one condition: he would give them the solution on one page of A4 paper and the price was a non-negotiable $1M.

The developers of the building gratefully accepted Bob’s terms and a handover took less than 5 minutes the next day. Remedial works followed, based on Bob’s one page document and advices, and the development was launched successfully.

A visit to the doctor

A friend of mine was recently complaining of a throbbing pain and tension towards the back of her head. This lasted for nearly two weeks and she was increasingly perplexed and worried as to the source of the problem. Some online research into the problem only increased her concerns.

She eventually obtained a doctor’s appointment and had her blood pressure checked. The doctor also asked a range of questions and carried out some other minor checks and pronounced that the cause of her difficulty was simply a “tension headache”. He prescribed some over the counter tablets she could pick up in the pharmacy.

The consultation only lasted 7 minutes and cost €100 but she was relieved and delighted that her problem was solved and she had the peace of mind from knowing that her worries were unnecessary and misplaced. The fact that the consultation only lasted 7 minutes was of little of no significance, provided she had confidence in the doctor’s opinion.

She was doubtful at first but the following weeks made it clear that the doctor was right and her problem has completely cleared up.


Neither of these problems required a long time to solve because the problem solvers in both cases needed less than 10 minutes to provide the solution. Sure, each of them could have dragged it out, took more time, beat around the bush, protracted the meeting for a longer period of time.

But nobody would have benefitted and it would have been deceitful and unnecessary.

Regarding legal problems: if you are thinking about quitting your job or buying a property or commencing potentially expensive legal proceedings getting sound legal advice, regardless of how much it costs for a consultation or how long it lasts, will be money well spent and should be measured by the value you receive, not the length of time it takes for the consultation.

Yes, I know you are anxious that all of the facts are known to the solicitor and are taken into account; and they will be because a professional solicitor will take as long as necessary to gather the relevant information to give you the best advice possible.

In answer to your question, “how long does the consultation last?”, the answer is as long as necessary to advise you properly.

Learn more about our employment law consultation service here and all other areas of law here.
P.S. We allocate a maximum of 1 hour for our consultations.

Employment Law Procedures and Policies HR/Employment Law Services The Employment Contract

Employers: Don’t Make the Mistake of Looking for ‘Bullet Proof’ Contracts or Waivers

Mick came in to see me last week. He had had enough.

‘Enough is enough’, he barked.

Mick is a small employer. Old fashioned, grim, swarthy.

He had enough of this employment law nonsense. He was looking for a way to ensure that his workers would stop giving him grief, and ‘cop themselves on’.

Or, as he put it, ‘show up and shut up and do what they’re told’.

‘Now? Now, they’re always going on in such a bloody tiresome way about their rights..paternity this, maternity that, force majeure, bereavement leave, unfair dismissal, bullying, harassment, health and safety. In the good old days if a lad came and complained about bullying I’d tell him to grow a pair of balls and sort it out in five minutes at the back of the shed..’

‘Mick, my friend, take a seat.That ship has sailed’, I said.

When he calmed down Mick made it clear he wanted two things:

  1. A “bullet proof” contract of employment
  2. A form or agreement that an employee would sign when he was leaving promising he would not bring any claims against Mick after he was gone.

Bullet Proof Contract

What Mick wanted was a contract that set out exactly what the employee could and couldn’t do, and it was heavily loaded in favour of Mick and the needs of his business.

I had to explain to him that I could help him with that but it would not be bulletproof. I told him that regardless of how he and a future employee might negotiate an agreement, and even if the employee went ahead and signed it, the employee still had legal rights and entitlements, no matter how one sided it was drafted.

Therefore, no matter what was put in the contract, no matter how agreeable (or naive) the new employee was, no matter how keen he was to work for Mick (or anyone), the new employee had statutory rights.

These rights are set out in the statute books in pieces of legislation such as the Unfair Dismissal Acts or the Organisation of Working Time Act or the Redundancy legislation or the Payment of Wages acts.

He also had rights to fair play in raising grievances in the workplace or how any disciplinary procedure might be carried out, I told him. These were set out in statutory instruments. I could see Mick visibly wincing, and the blood draining from his face.

On top of that, I had to tell Mick that employees had rights arising from EU law, common law, and the constitution. I could see Mick visibly perking up when I mentioned “Bunreacht na hÉireann”.

Nevertheless, I had to advise Mick that no matter what way the contract was drafted the employee had protections and rights which were imposed on the employment relationship, whether he liked it or not and whether the employee was agreeable or not.

And he had to just get over it and perhaps improve his relationship with his staff, starting with how he viewed them.

A Leaving the Employment Indemnity/Waiver

He also wanted some sort of a one page, straightforward, easy to understand form which would do two things:

  • Prevent the employee from working for any competitors or starting his own business
  • Promise not to bring any claims against Mick.

I explained to Mick that if he wanted to try to prevent former employees from working for competitors or starting their own business nearby or stealing Mick’s customers or staff he needed to provide for this in the contract of employment. He would need a restrictive covenant which would only be enforceable if it was reasonable.

I had to break the news to him that looking for an employee to sign such a form when he was leaving Mick was too late, and akin to bolting a stable door when the horse was long gone.

As for promising not to bring any claims against Mick, I asked Mick to think about this: ‘why would an employee do that? Why would he give up those rights without some incentive? Would he not be asking, if presented with such a form, what was in it for him?’

In short, if he wanted the employee to waive his rights in respect of claims arising from the employment he’s better get out the cheque book and provide an incentive. Because, otherwise, it would be an act of folly for an employee to sign such a form.

And even if he did it could be overturned and set aside later on as he could claim that he did not know what he was signing and had no legal advice at the time.


Mick learned that the answer to his staff problems was in improving his attitude and approach to his employees. This would lead to a better atmosphere in the workplace, lads taking more care with his equipment and vehicles, a better working relationship, and less chance of claims against him.

And if there were claims against him?

Provided Mick did not ride roughshod over their rights, give them contracts of employment that were fair and lawful, maybe have a staff handbook in the workplace, too, to deal with discipline and grievances and bullying, he would have a far better chance of successfully defending any claims that arose.

Or even make it less likely that claims would be brought once the employee learned the chances of success were not great.

Blog HR/Employment Law Services

Employment Law Articles for Employers and HR Professionals

employment law articles

Are you an employer? Do you work in human resources?

I have written quite a lot of articles/blog posts on this site about employment law in Ireland.

The questions I receive from employers and people charged with the HR function in an organisation are completely different from those I receive from employees.

Much of the information on this site will be useful for both employers and employees. For example the extensive articles on unfair dismissal, redundancy, health and safety, and the contract of employment.

But on this page I want to focus on articles and blog posts that focus on the specific issues that employers and hr people contact me about. I hope you find them useful.

Employment Claims Employment Law Procedures and Policies HR/Employment Law Services Staff Handbooks

How Employers Can Deal With the Problem Employee (and Avoid Costly Employment Law Claims)


problem employee

There’s a lad from outside Mullingar who has a peculiar way of making a living.

I’ll tell you about that another time, though.

Because last week he paid me a visit on different business: the common problem of the “problem employee”?

How do you handle this familiar problem?

Many employers come to me with a massive sense of frustration, sometimes anger.

Their emotions range from a sense that employment law in Ireland is loaded in favour of the employee, to fear of taking any action for fear of a costly claim to the WRC or Court from the employee.

What can you do if an employee is misbehaving or demonstrating a bad attitude or failing to perform or is guilty of misconduct or is forever missing days or guilty of persistent poor timekeeping?

Or is a liability or just not right for your organisation?

Or is he on the fiddle?

Small employers, without the benefit of trained HR professionals in their business, are often frozen with fear and indecision.

Quite frankly, they don’t have a clue what to do or what they are allowed to do to handle a problem employee.

Some employers take a metaphorical lump hammer to the problem; others take the approach of “being nice and hoping for the best”.

Neither of these approaches are recommended, quite frankly.

The Options

Firstly, you need to be mindful of a certain critical time period: 12 months’ employment or “one year’s continuous service”, according to the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977.

Generally, an employee can only bring a claim for unfair dismissal when he/she has one year’s continuous service in the job. There are exceptions, for example, a dismissal on a discriminatory ground, or a dismissal because the employee has made a protected disclosure (Protected Disclosures Act, 2014).

By and large, though, the employee needs a year’s service.

So, if an employee is not working out, or is simply not right for your organisation, the contract of employment can be terminated.

Over one year’s service?

If the employee has more than one year’s service it is more problematic for you as an employer. The employee has more protection by virtue of the Unfair Dismissals act, 1977.

It provides that an employee can only be dismissed on specified grounds, provided there are substantial grounds justifying the dismissal :

  • Capability, competence, qualifications
  • Conduct
  • Redundancy
  • Illegality
  • Other substantial grounds

To dismiss on one of these grounds you need to ensure all your ducks are in a row; this article which I have written in the past about how to legally dismiss an employee should help.

You do need, however, to afford fair procedures and natural justice to the employee in terminating the employment as these are constitutional rights.

There is one further situation that arises: frustration of the contract. This could arise where an employee becomes ill or suffers an injury that makes it impossible for him/her to do the work. In other words, the employee is unable to fulfill his/her obligations due to incapacity.

It is said, then, that the contract is at an end as it has been frustrated.

Practical examples

Let’s look at some practical examples.

“Susan” is a secretary/receptionist in a medical practice. Her attitude is poor, her absenteeism rate is high, her work is poor, and worst of all, she has plenty of “sass” going on in her interaction with her boss because her boss is a non national.

If she has over 12 months’ service, the option for you as employer in this situation is to manage the situation professionally. You would use a performance improvement plan and/or the disciplinary procedure to let Susan know that her performance and conduct is unacceptable and will have to improve.

You would ensure to afford her the full benefit of your disciplinary procedure and ensure she is aware that improvements are required and if they are not forthcoming the sanctions set out in the disciplinary procedure will be imposed.

If she does not have 12 months’ service and is on probation either because she is in her first 6 months’ of employment or she has had her probation extended, her employment could be terminated.

“Gianluca” is a part time employee but appears to be angling to bring some sort of claim against you. He has already suffered a minor injury-back problem- as a result of lifting some stuff in the store room.

He’s due back to work shortly after his injury and his solicitor is writing to you about accepting liability for Gianluca’s injury. You have observed him carefully for a couple of years now and you know he is just gagging to quit the job and bring some sort of claim to the WRC (Workplace Relations Commission).

You are, quite frankly, walking on eggshells.

What to do? Firstly, report the personal injury suffered in the workplace to your insurer, if you have not done so already, and let the insurer deal with it.

Secondly, when he does come back, deal with him professionally, just like Susan above. Provided you respect the laws and don’t act unlawfully, you have nothing to get overly anxious about.

You do need to ensure you are giving him his correct rest breaks, holiday and public holiday entitlements, and all other employment obligations.

But once you are satisfied you are doing so you need not worry excessively.

The laws are not completely imbalanced or stacked against you, and you have rights too. It’s a myth to say otherwise.

For example, at its most basic Gianluca needs to perform in accordance with the contract of employment, and follow reasonable directions of you as employer and any of his line managers.

Even the Supreme Court held earlier in 2017 held that every wrong that an employee suffers in the job does not give rise to a claim or a legal cause of action.

So stay calm. The dice is not loaded. There is no need to act on any fleeting impulses you might have to take him into a darkened room and teach him a lesson!

Fianlly, Paul is a blocklaying contractor and Jimbo, one of his lads, is threatening to drive him around the bend. He is frequently missing from work, just texts that morning or the eveing before and says he won’t be in.

At this stage paul is getting suspicious that Jimbo is working for someone else a couple of days a week, as it seems to be the same days he is missing all the time.

In any event, the response from Jim should be the same as for Gianuca and Susan: invoke the disciplinary procedure after having the chat/some informal counselling with Jimbo to let him know the rate of “no shows” is unacceptable.

You will see that all these problems can be resolved in a professional way with no undue concern for claims against you, provided you stay calm and deal with the issues coolly and calmly.


Employment law is fundamentally based on the contract of employment.

If you go back through the centuries there was a “master/servant” relationship. If you fast forward a few hundred years there still exists a huge disparity in power between the employer and employee in negotiating a contract of employment.

Generally, it’s a case of, “take it or leave it”.

So statute law such as the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 and the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 were introduced by legislators to protect employees and redress the inherent imbalance in equality of arms between employer and employee.

That’s all that’s happened.

So, if you are an employer, stay cool, abide by the laws and you won’t need to worry excessively about the whole shooting match being loaded against you.

HR/Employment Law Services

Why I Can’t Answer Your Questions or Give You Legal Advice for Free


Every day of the week, I receive emails, telephone calls, or letters from people with problems, issues, or questions.

Most people understand that there will be a consultation fee for my advice/opinion.

However, some people think I should be answering these questions and offering my opinion for free.

However, I can’t.

I simply cannot answer these questions or give legal advice for free.

You might think, “miserable/greedy/mean/grasping/stingy lawyer-typical”.

And I understand that reaction.

But let me explain why I have to adopt this policy.

Time and Complexity

Most situations might appear simple but, in fact, are complex, and require time and research.

Let’s take, for example, an employment scenario. In order to advise properly I will need to

  1. Find out all the facts and circumstances of the issue
  2. Review the contract of employment
  3. Review any relevant correspondence between employer and employee
  4. Review any investigation/disciplinary/medial reports relevant to the situation.

Doing this takes time, and possibly research.

Answering all the questions I receive on a daily basis, and providing accurate, professional advice is time consuming, for the reasons outlined above. If I was to do this for free I simply would not have sufficient time in the day to advise and help my clients.

Quite frankly, I would not be able to earn a living, and pay my office expenses, and professional expenses, and pay my mortgage and look after my family.

In summary, to provide you with a good service, and do you and your issue justice, I need to devote time and expertise to it.

And for this, I am sure you agree, I am entitled to be paid, just like you in your job.

Professional Negligence

If I give you bad advice, and you suffer losses as a result of acting on that advice, I am leaving myself open to being sued for professional negligence.

Yes, even if I was not paid.

Why? Because I am a professional and it could be argued that anyone asking me for advice is entitled to rely on that advice.

Yes, even if you have not paid.

Let’s call a spade a spade: if I am leaving myself open to being sued for professional negligence I think it is prudent to charge a consultation fee and give the necessary time to produce the very best advice I can give.

And let’s face it: giving advice is what I do for a living-what I get paid for.

Alternative Sources of Information

My websites provide a large quantity of useful information. They provide the backbone to the growth of my solicitor’s practice.

And all the information is completely free.

That’s the way it will remain; I will never charge for the information freely available on my websites:

But to advise you on your particular situation, taking into account your specific circumstances, and to weigh up all the relevant facts and then advise, there is a small consultation fee.

I trust you now understand why.

You can learn more about this consultation service here.

If you don’t want to pay your local Citizen’s Advice may be able to help.

Here’s the link for information about arranging a consultation.