Technical Breaches of the Law and the De Minimis Rule-the Labour Court’s Approach

the labour court

What happens if there is a technical breach of the law by an employer but the employee has not suffered any prejudice or detriment?

Do you know what the “de minimis rule” is? It might be a good idea to be aware of it.

Let me explain.

An employer must give an employee a written statement of certain terms and conditions of employment within 2 months of starting the employment. This is normally referred to as a written contract.

The relevant legislation-the Terms of Employment (Information) act 1994-sets out the various things that need to be included in this statement. There are some further matters that must be included pursuant to the Terms of Employment (Additional Information) Order 1998 (SI 49/1998).

Between the 1994 Act and the statutory instrument from 1998 there is approximately 20 matters that must be covered.

What happens however if there is a technical breach of the obligation? By this I mean an employer does indeed give a written statement but omits a small number of things that he should have included, or there is some other technical breach of the obligation.

What happens if a minor, trivial, technical breach does not lead to any prejudice or disadvantage to the employee?

A recent Labour Court case dealt with such a claim in Component Distributors (CD Ireland) Ltd and Brigid (Beatrice) Burns.

The Complainant, Ms Burns, had brought a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission alleging breach of the Terms of Employment (Information) act 1994. The breaches were minor and the Adjudicator awarded her €200.

She appealed this decision to the Labour Court.

The alleged breaches of the employer’s obligations were

1. The full name of the employer was not set out in the contract insofar as the contract omitted “CD” and “(Ireland)”

2. The statement did not set out the employee’s breaks

3. The employer’s annual leave year did not run in tandem with the leave year referred to in the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997

The Labour Court and the De Minimis Rule

The Labour Court referred to a case called Patrick Hall v Irish Water TED161 in which it set out its approach to be adopted where a technical breach of this Act which had no practical consequences occurred. It then adopted and applied the reasoning set out in that case and it is worth taking a look at here.

In Patrick Hall v Irish Water TED161 the Labour Court commented:

As appears from the above, these complaints are wholly devoid of any substantive merit. The State has already incurred the costs associated with providing the Complainant with a hearing of these complaints at first instance and it is now obliged to incur the cost in time and expense of providing him with a full appeal before a division of the Court. That takes no account of the cost incurred by the Respondent in defending this case, both at first instance and now on appeal. The combined associated costs of processing and hearing these complaints is grossly disproportionate to any value that could have accrued to the Complainant if the technical infringements of which he complains had not occurred.

Moreover, the letter of offer furnished to the Complainant dated 25th July 2014 invited him to contact a named person if he wished to discuss or seek clarification on any of the terms proffered. The Complainant signed the statement without demur and returned it to the Respondent. Neither then or at any subsequent time did he request further or better particulars on any matter pertaining to his employment. The Court has no doubt that had he sought further information on any matter pertaining to his employment, including the matters which form the subject of his present complaints, it would have been provided by the Respondent.

In the circumstances of this case that represents an unacceptable squandering of public resources. It is a manifest absurdity to suggest, as the Complainant does, that these contraventions, if such they are, could or should be met with an award of monetary compensation. That is particularly so in circumstances in which the matters now complained of could easily have been rectified by a simple request to the Respondent to provide any further information that the Complainant considered necessary.

De Minimis rule

It is an established principle of the common law that a Court should not squander its resources in dealing with claims that are without substance because the contraventions complained of had no practical consequence for the plaintiff. This principle is encapsulated in the Latin maxim de minimis non curat lex (the law does not concern itself with trifles). The classic statement of where this principle should be applied is contained in the judgment of Henchy J. in the Supreme Court’s decision in Monaghan UDC v Alf-a-Bet Publications Ltd. [1980] I.L.R.M. 64, at page 69. Henchy J articulated a generally applicable test in the following terms: –

“In such circumstances, what the Legislature has, either immediately in the Act or immediately in the regulations, nominated as being obligatory may not be depreciated to the level of a mere direction except on the application of the de minimis rule. In other words, what the Legislature has prescribed, or allowed to be prescribed, in such circumstances as necessary should be treated by the courts as nothing short of necessary, and any deviation from the requirements must, before it can be overlooked, be shown, by the person seeking to have it excused, to be so trivial, or so technical, or so peripheral, or otherwise so insubstantial that, on the principle that it is the spirit rather than the letter of the law that matters, the prescribed obligation has been substantially, and therefore adequately, complied with.”

The Labour Court went further:

The Court is satisfied that, in the circumstances of this case, any deviations that may have occurred from what the strict letter of s. 3 of the Act, or from what the statutory instrument at issue prescribes, are so trivial, technical, peripheral or otherwise so insubstantial as to come within the de minimis rule. There can be no doubt that the Respondent provided the Complainant with all the information that he required in relation to the essential elements of the terms and conditions attaching to his particular employment. What is complained of is a failure to provide information on matters that had no practical significance in the context of the employment that he was offered and accepted.

In this case, Component Distributors (CD Ireland) Ltd and Brigid (Beatrice) Burns, the Labour Court determined as follows:

Determination

The within appeal is upheld in part as set out above. In its decision in Irish Water the Court held that where mere technical breaches of section 3 of the 1994 Act occur, “the dictates of fairness or equity could not justify an award of compensation”. The Court follows that reasoning in its approach to this claim.

The Court determines that the amount of compensation which is just and equitable in all the circumstances is nil. The Recommendation of the Adjudication Officer is varied accordingly.

You will note that even though the Labour Court agreed that there were breaches of the relevant act those breaches were so trivial, technical, peripheral or otherwise so insubstantial as to come within the de minimis rule.

And the Labour Court held that the technical breaches did not justify any compensation and reduced the employee’s award from €200 to nil.

The Terms of Employment (Information) Act, 1994-What Employers and Employees Should Know

terms of employment information act 1994
Employment contract

Are you an employer?

Have you given your employees written statements in accordance with the Terms of Employment (Information) Act, 1994?

You should, you know.

Are you an employee? Did you receive a written contract?

If you didn’t, you are entitled to one.

Terms of Employment (Information) Act, 1994

The Terms of Employment (Information) act, 1994 sets out the basic terms of employment which the employer must provide to the employee in a written form within 2 months of starting the employment.

Failure to do so will leave the employer open to a claim from the employee, pursuant to the Terms of Employment (Information) act, 1994. The maximum amount that can be awarded to the employee is 4 weeks’ remuneration.

The claim must be brought to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and is a straightforward win or loss situation-that is, it is clear whether there has been a breach of the legal obligation or not.

Other employment related cases may involve arguments about facts, and the interpretation of previous decisions of Courts or tribunals, or the law as set out in statute.

But in this type of case the written statement/contract of employment was either furnished to the employee within the prescribed timeframe or it was not.

For this reason, employers would be strongly advised to give their employees the necessary statements within the 2 month window.

What must be in the written statement?

Firstly, we can look at section 3 of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act, 1994 which sets out the following matters:

An employer shall, not later than 2 months after the commencement of an employee’s employment with the employer, give or cause to be given to the employee a statement in writing containing the following particulars of the terms of the employee’s employment, that is to say

(a) the full names of the employer and the employee,

(b) the address of the employer in the State or, where appropriate, the address of the principal place of the relevant business of the employer in the State or the registered office (within the meaning of the Companies Act, 1963 ),

(c) the place of work or, where there is no fixed or main place of work, a statement specifying that the employee is required or permitted to work at various places,

(d) the title of the job or nature of the work for which the employee is employed,

(e) the date of commencement of the employee’s contract of employment,

(f) in the case of a temporary contract of employment, the expected duration thereof or, if the contract of employment is for a fixed term, the date on which the contract expires,

F5 [ ( fa ) a reference to any registered employment agreement or employment regulation order which applies to the employee and confirmation of where the employee may obtain a copy of such agreement or order, ]

F6 [ (g) the rate or method of calculation of the employee ’ s remuneration and the pay reference period for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage Act, 2000,

( ga ) that the employee may, under section 23 of the National Minimum Wage Act, 2000, request from the employer a written statement of the employee ’ s average hourly rate of pay for any pay reference period as provided in that section, ]

(g) the rate or method of calculation of the employee’s remuneration,

(h) the length of the intervals between the times at which remuneration is paid, whether a week, a month or any other interval,

(i) any terms or conditions relating to hours of work (including overtime),

(j) any terms or conditions relating to paid leave (other than paid sick leave),

(k) any terms or conditions relating to—

(i) incapacity for work due to sickness or injury and paid sick leave, and

(ii) pensions and pension schemes,

(l) the period of notice which the employee is required to give and entitled to receive (whether by or under statute or under the terms of the employee’s contract of employment) to determine the employee’s contract of employment or, where this cannot be indicated when the information is given, the method for determining such periods of notice,

(m) a reference to any collective agreements which directly affect the terms and conditions of the employee’s employment including, where the employer is not a party to such agreements, particulars of the bodies or institutions by whom they were made.

You must also consider regulations introduced in S.I. No. 49/1998 – Terms of Employment (Additional Information) Order, 1998 which set out the information which must be provided about rest breaks.

  1. (1) In relation to an employee who enters into a contract of employment after the commencement of this Order, the employee’s employer shall, within two months after the employee’s commencement of employment with the employer, give or cause to be given to the employee a statement in writing containing particulars of the times and duration of the rest periods and breaks referred to in sections 11, 12 and 13 of the Act that are being allowed to the employee and of any other terms and conditions relating to those periods and breaks.

(2) In relation to an employee who has entered into a contract of employment before the commencement of this Order, the employee’s employer shall, if requested by the employee to do so, give or cause to be given to the employee, within 2 months of the request being made, a statement in writing containing particulars of the times and duration of the rest periods and breaks referred to in sections 11, 12 and 13 of the Act that are being allowed to the employee and of any other terms and conditions relating to those periods and breaks.

Exclusions, Changes, and Complaints

Section 2 of the Act provides some exclusions:

2.—(1) This Act shall not apply to—

(a) employment in which the employee is normally expected to work for the employer for less than 8 hours in a week, or

(b) employment in which the employee has been in the continuous service of the employer for less than 1 month.

Section 5 of the Terms of Employment (Information) act, 1994 obliges the employer to notify the employee of changes to a term or condition within 1 month.

Section 6 of the Act provides for employees who were in the employment before the commencement of the Act. They can request a statement in accordance with section 3 and must be given it within 2 months of the request.

Section 7 of the Terms of Employment (Information) act, 1994 sets out how complaints will be dealt with, and provides for compensation of up to 4 weeks’ remuneration.

Conclusion

Employers should give their employees a written statement or written contract of employment within 2 months of the commencement of the employment.

If they don’t they are leaving themselves wide open for a simple, “open goal” type claim by their employee(s).

 

Need a contract for your business?

Contact me.

I can supply you with

  1. a template contract which you will complete yourself for each employee. This would involve things like commencement date, job description/role, rate of pay, and any other specific details for the individual employee and/or
  2. individual contracts for each employee-we get all the necessary details from you for each employee and draft the contracts for you.

Staff Handbooks

You will also need a staff handbook because you will need to provide certain basic procedures which will apply in the workplace.

For example, discipline, grievance, dignity at work policies/procedures. Also, your contract of employment will refer to these policies/procedures.

I can also supply you with a staff handbook.

Learn more about it here.

Terms and Conditions of Employment-5 Employment Claims Commonly Brought to the WRC

terms and conditions of employment

There are 5 claims which can be broadly categorised under a heading of “terms and conditions of employment”, which can be the subject of claims to the Workplace Relations Commission.

Here they are:

  1. You did not receive a written statement of your terms of employment

Section 3 of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act, 1994 provides that an employer must give you a statement within 2 months of starting employment. Statutory instrument no. 49/1998 requires additional information to be given to the employee:

  • a statement in writing containing particulars of the times and duration of the rest periods and breaks
  • a reference to any registered employment agreement or employment regulation order which applies to the employee and confirmation of where the employee may obtain a copy of such agreement or order
  • the rate or method of calculation of the employee s remuneration and the pay reference period for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage Act, 2000
  • that the employee may, under section 23 of the National Minimum Wage Act, 2000, request from the employer a written statement of the employee s average hourly rate of pay for any pay reference period as provided in that section
  1. You weren’t notified in wiring of a change to your terms of employment

Section 5 of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act, 1994 covers this and provides that an employer advise you in writing of any such change within 1 month.

  1. Your employer is not keeping statutory employment records

S.I. No. 36/2012 – European Communities (Road Transport) (Organisation of Working Time of Persons Performing Mobile Road Transport Activities) Regulations 2012 covers this. The employer must keep a written record of the working pattern, breaks, etc. of a mobile worker.

  1. You were not told by the employer about the working hours regulations applicable to the road transport sector

Regulation 11 of SI 36/2012 stipulates the obligation in this regard.

  1. You work in mobile transport and your employer won’t give you records of your hours worked

Regulation 12 of SI 36/2012 covers this obligation.

 

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