A zero-hours contract of employment applies where you (the employee) are available for work but your hours of work are not specified under your employment contract. A zero-hours contract requires you to be available for a certain number of hours per week, or when required, or both.
Employees on zero-hours contracts are protected by the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. However, this does not apply to work of a casual nature.
Employees’ general working conditions have been improved by the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018. This Act strengthens your employment rights in several respects, including prohibiting zero-hours contracts in most cases (see ‘Rules’ below).
You can read more on the Workplace Relations Commission website which includes frequently asked questions for employee (pdf) and for employers (pdf).
Ban on zero-hour contracts
Zero-hours contracts are prohibited in most cases under the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018, but there are some exceptions to this rule. Zero-hours contracts are allowed in the following circumstances:
- Work of a casual nature
- Work done in emergency situations
- Short-term relief to cover routine absences
For example, where a member of staff in a care facility must accompany a resident to hospital at short notice, an appropriate substitute worker can be called in to cover under a zero-hours contract. Similarly, schools maintain a panel of teachers to provide substitute cover for the unexpected absence of a regular member of the teaching staff.
You must receive a minimum payment if you are called in to work but sent home without work (except in emergencies, exceptional circumstances or short-term relief, for example). You must get pay for 25% of the possible hours or for 15 hours, whichever is less.
New calculations for these minimum payments are set out in the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018. Your pay should be calculated as either 3 times the national minimum wage or, if applicable, 3 times the minimum hourly rate in an Employment Regulation Order (ERO).
An employee under a zero-hours contract who works less than 25% of their potential hours in any week should be compensated. The level of compensation depends on whether you got some work or none at all:
- If you got some work, your compensation should bring you up to 25% of the possible available hours or 15 hours, whichever is less.
- If you got no work, the compensation should be either for 25% of the possible available hours or for 15 hours, whichever is less.
For example, if you are required to be available for 20 hours per week, but you got no work, you would be entitled to be compensated for 15 hours or 25% of the 20 hours (that is, 5 hours), whichever is less. In this case, 5 hours is the lesser amount.
If, on the other hand, you got 3 hours’ work out of the 20, you would be compensated for 2 hours’ pay, to bring you up to 25% of the contract hours.
To calculate the minimum payment in this example, €9.80 per hour is the national minimum wage. Alternatively, you could substitute the ERO hourly rate if this applies to your job.
You got no work: (€9.80 x 3 times x 5 hours) = €147
You got 3 hours’ work: (€9.80 x 3 times x 2 hours) = €58.80
This minimum payment rate does not apply if you are on call.
Where your current employment contract does not accurately reflect the average hours per week that you actually work over a 12-month period, you are entitled to a banded contract.
A banded contract gives you the right to work an average of the hours in your specified band for 12 months. There are 8 bands covering a certain number of hours per week (for example, 6-11 or 11-16 hours per week).
You can find more information in our document on the working week on how to request a banded hours contract and how to complain if you feel your request was unreasonably refused.
How to make a complaint
You can enforce your legal rights by referring a dispute with your employer to the Workplace Relations Commission. You should do this within 6 months of the dispute occurring. However, this time limit may be extended for up to 6 months if you had reasonable cause for not bringing the complaint within the first 6 months. You must use the online complaint form on workplacerelations.ie.
Further information on zero-hours contracts and your employment rights is available from the Workplace Relation Commission's Information and Customer Service. See contact details below.