Rights of fixed-term workers
Generally, people employed on fixed-term contracts have the same rights as other employees.
The rights of fixed-term workers are protected in law. You cannot generally be treated less favourably – in other words, you must be treated at least as well as comparable permanent employees.
What is an open-ended contract?
The majority of employees work under open-ended contracts of employment, sometimes called contracts of indefinite duration. In other words, the contract continues until the employer or employee ends it.
What is a fixed-term contract?
Generally, a fixed-term contract ends on an agreed date. A fixed-term contract can be for a number of months up to a year or more.
What is a specified-purpose contract?
A fixed-term contract can also be a specified-purpose and so may not end on a specific date. Instead, the contract finishes at an agreed time when a particular task is completed.
We use the term fixed-term contract for convenience throughout this page. It also includes specified-purpose contracts.
Who is a fixed-term worker?
You are a fixed-term worker if your contract ends either:
- On a specified date
- When a specific task is completed
- When a specific event occurs
Examples of fixed-term workers are:
- A retail worker taken on for 3 months during peak season
- A specialist taken on for the duration of a project
- A worker taken on to cover maternity leave
You are not a fixed-term worker if you:
- Are a temporary agency worker (where an agency facilitates your temporary placement in an organisation but you do not have an employment contract with the agency. Agency workers who are employed directly by an employment agency can be fixed-term workers)
- Are an apprentice or trainee
- Work in a publicly-funded employment scheme, for example Community Employment
Rights of fixed-term workers
Generally, people employed on fixed-term contracts have the same rights as other employees. There are also some extra legal protections for workers with fixed-term contracts.
If you are a fixed-term worker, your employer:
- Cannot treat you less favourably to your permanent co-workers. In other words, you must be treated at least as well as comparable permanent employees.
- Must be able to objectively justify any different treatment.
- Must allow you to join a pension scheme (except where your normal hours are less than 20% of the normal hours of a comparable permanent employee).
- Must help you get training to enhance your skills, career development and job mobility (where possible).
- Must tell you about any vacancies for permanent positions (can be done by a general announcement).
Protection against less favourable treatment
Employers cannot treat a fixed-term workers less favourably than a comparable permanent employee simply because they are on a fixed-term contract, unless the reasons can be objectively justified.
Employers can only treat you less favourably if they have objective grounds. This means the difference in treatment is appropriate and necessary for achieving a legitimate business objective.
An example of objective grounds could be not providing you with a company car, even though a comparable permanent worker has one. This could be justified as legitimate because of the disproportionate cost to your employer of providing the car to you when you are on a fixed-term contract.
Who is a comparable permanent co-worker?
A comparable permanent co-worker works for the same employer as you, and either:
- Does the same work as you, under the same or similar conditions
- Is interchangeable with you in relation to the work done (for example, you can substitute or fill in for one another)
- Does the same work or similar work to you, and any differences between your work and working conditions are insignificant
- Does work of equal value, or of lesser value, than you
These rights are set out in the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003.
Written statement of end date
Your employer must give you written notice of the expiry date of your contract. You must get this as soon as possible.
This is set out in the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994–2014.
Maternity leave and fixed-term contracts
Fixed-term workers are entitled to full maternity leave. However, if your fixed-term contract ends before the last day of maternity leave, the last day of your contract counts as the last day of maternity leave.
This means that if the fixed-term contract ends during your maternity leave, your contract of employment terminates on that date. This does not affect your entitlement to the full 26 weeks of Maternity Benefit.
Can my employer renew my fixed-term contract?
If your employer intends to renew your fixed-term contract, you must get a written statement by the date of renewal. The written statement should set out the objective grounds justifying the renewal and the reasons for not offering an open-ended contract.
Successive fixed-term contracts
You cannot be employed on a series of fixed-term contracts indefinitely.
You cannot be kept on successive fixed-term contracts for more than 4 years. This does not include a single fixed-term contract. For example, you can get a 5-year fixed-term contract but you cannot get 5 one-year fixed-term contracts.
If your employer wants you to continue in the job, they must employ you under an open-ended contract (also called a contract of indefinite duration – see ‘Introduction’).
The only exception to this is where your employer has objective grounds justifying the renewal of your fixed term contract. Your employer must be able to show the renewal is appropriate and necessary to achieve a legitimate business objective.
Abuses of successive fixed-term contracts
The Unfair Dismissal Acts contain a provision aimed at making sure that successive temporary contracts are not used to avoid the employee having the protection of the unfair dismissal legislation.
Ending fixed-term contracts
Reasons for ending a fixed-term contract include the:
- Arrival of a specific date
- Completion of a specific task
- Occurrence of a specific event
Not renewing a fixed-term contract is treated as a dismissal. When you are dismissed at the end of the contract you have:
- Rights under unfair dismissals legislation (there are exceptions – see below)
- Rights to a redundancy payment (only if you worked continuously for at least 104 weeks under a fixed-term or specified purpose contract)
Dismissal at the end of a contract is not considered unfair
Dismissal at the end of a fixed-term or specified-purpose contract may be considered unfair under the Unfair Dismissals Acts. However, the employer can prevent this by meeting these 3 conditions:
- The contract must be in writing and must set out the specific duration of the fixed-term contract or, in the case of a specified-purpose contract, the object of the contract.
- The contract must be signed by both the employee and the employer.
- The contract must contain a specific clause stating that the expiry of the contract will not make it liable to a claim under the Unfair Dismissals Acts.
If these conditions are not met, then you may be able to claim for unfair dismissal despite having been employed under a fixed-term or specified-purpose contract.
If you think you have been penalised as a fixed-term worker
Your employer cannot penalise (or punish) you where you:
- Exercised your right not to be treated less favourably than your comparable permanent co-worker
- Objected to an action that is illegal under the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act
- Gave evidence in any proceedings under the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act or gave notice of you intention to give evidence
Your employer is considered to have punished you if they:
- Dismiss you, including dismissal to avoid a fixed-term contract being considered an open-ended contract
- Make an unfavourable change in your conditions of employment
- Treat you unfairly, including selection for redundancy
- Take any other action that is prejudicial to your employment
Making a complaint
You can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission about a breach of your rights under the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003 or for unfair dismissal. You should use the online complaint form.
You must make the complaint within 6 months of the dispute taking place. The time limit may be extended for a further 6 months, if there is a reasonable cause which prevented you from bringing the complaint within the normal time limit.
For more information you can read the explanatory leaflet on Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003 (pdf). You can also contact the Workplace Relations Commission's Information and Customer Service.