Contract of employment
What is a contract of employment?
If you work for an employer for a regular wage or salary, you automatically have a ‘contract of employment’ with them. Your contract sets out the rights and responsibilities of you and your employer.
Legally, you do not have to get your whole contract in writing. However, the law says you must get a ‘written statement of terms of employment’ (read more below).
Most employees have open-ended contracts of employment. This means the contract continues until the employer or employee ends it (for example, by giving notice). Other employees have fixed-term or specified-purpose contracts, which end on a specific date or when a particular task is completed.
The terms of your employment contract can be:
- ‘Express’, which means they are explained to you verbally or in writing
- ‘Implied’, which means they have not been specified but they still apply (for example, that all employees must do their job to the best of their ability)
You can read about ‘The difference between express and implied terms’ below.
Written statement of terms of employment
Within the first 5 days of starting a job, your employer must give you part of your ‘written statement of terms of employment’. This written statement must include the 5 core terms of employment (such as how your pay is calculated).
Within 2 months of starting the job, your employer must give you the remaining terms of your employment in writing (such as your entitlement to annual leave).
If you are required to work outside the State for at least one month, you must be given a written statement of the terms and conditions of employment, before you leave the country. This should include the currency you will be paid in, and any other benefits for working abroad.
The 5 core terms of employment
You must get the 5 core terms of your employment, in writing, within 5 days of starting your job. These include:
- The full names of the employer and employee
- The address of the employer
- The expected duration of the contract (if the contract is temporary or fixed-term)
- The rate or method of calculating your pay, and the ‘pay reference period’ (for example, whether you are paid weekly, fortnightly or monthly)
- What the employer reasonably expects the normal length of your working day and week to be (for example, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week)
You can see a sample 5-day statement of terms of employment (pdf) on workplacerelations.ie.
Your right to get the 5 core terms of employment (in writing) is set out in the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018. Employers can face serious penalties if they do not comply. See ‘How to make a complaint’ below.
The remaining terms of employment
You must get a written statement of your remaining terms of employment within 2 months of starting work. This includes:
- The place of work
- The job title or nature of the work (such as a brief job description)
- The date the employment started
- Pay intervals (for example, weekly or monthly)
- Any terms or conditions relating to hours of work (such as overtime)
- Paid leave, including your annual leave and public holiday entitlements
- Sick pay
- Pension and pension schemes
- Period of notice to be given by employer or employee
- Details of any collective agreements that may affect your terms of employment
See a sample statement of terms of employment (pdf) on workplacerelations.ie.
Your right to get the remaining terms of employment in writing is set out in the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994–2014. However, this does not apply if you:
- Work for your employer for less than 8 hours a week
- Have been employed for less than a month
Other elements of your contract
Your employment contract may contain more details than set out in the ‘written statement of terms of employment’.
Yours and your employer’s signature
Your employer must sign and date the ‘written statement of terms of employment’, but there is no legal requirement for you to sign it.
Your employer must keep a copy of the written statement throughout your employment, and for at least a year after it ends.
Disciplinary and grievance procedures
Employers must have written grievance and disciplinary procedures, as set out in the Workplace Relation Commission (WRC) Code of Practice: Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures. Your employer must give you a copy of these procedures at the start of your employment.
Within 28 days of starting work, your employer must also give you written details of the procedures to be followed before you can be dismissed. This is set out in the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977–2015.
Some employers add specific provisions into contracts of employment. For example, they may limit your ability to work in a certain sector, or with certain suppliers or clients of a former employer, for a certain length of time.
Employment law does not strictly forbid provisions like this, but nor does it specifically allow them. Essentially, this is an issue of contract law.
If you have any concerns about this, you should get legal advice before signing the contract. You can also get legal advice after signing it.
Find contact details for solicitors throughout Ireland on the Law Society website. Solicitors' fees are not fixed and can vary considerably, so you are advised to shop around.
Your contract can include a ‘probationary period’ (for example, of 6 months). It can also allow for this period to be extended (for example, to a period of 12 months).
If you are dismissed while you are on probation or undergoing training, the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1997–2015 will not apply, once:
- The contract of employment is in writing and
- The probation or training lasts for one year or less and is specified in the contract
However, the Unfair Dismissals Acts will apply if you are dismissed due to:
- Trade union membership or activity
- Pregnancy-related matters
- Entitlements under maternity protection, parental leave, adoptive leave, parent’s leave, paternity leave, force majeure leave or carer’s leave legislation
If you are dismissed during probation
If you are being dismissed during a probation period due to misconduct, you have a right to ‘natural justice’, which means due process and fair procedures. However, this right does not generally apply to a dismissal for poor performance, particularly where your contract expressly allows for dismissal for poor performance during probation.
You may be able to take a claim for ‘wrongful dismissal’ during your probation period if you have less than 12 months service. Wrongful dismissal happens when an employer does not meet an implied or an express term in your contract of employment, or does not give you adequate notice. You can sue the employer for breach of your contract in the civil courts.
Changes to your contract of employment
If there is a change in employment law (such as an increase to Parent’s leave), this automatically changes the terms in your contract of employment.
Any other changes to your contract (changes not set out in law), must be agreed between you and your employer. This means your employer cannot change the terms of your contract without your consent.
Read more about changes to your employment contract.
The difference between ‘express’ and ‘implied’ terms
‘Express terms of employment’ are agreed between you and your employer. They are either:
- Verbally agreed
- Set out, in writing, in your contract (or in other documents which form part of your contract, such as a staff handbook)
Express terms generally include pay, hours of work, a notice period, and so on.
‘Implied terms of employment’ are terms which are not verbally agreed to or set out in writing, but are still legally binding.
Implied terms can come from many sources, such as:
- Legislation and caselaw (for example, it is common law that you and your employer have a duty of care towards each other and other employees)
- Custom and practice within the workplace (for example, a particular rate of overtime pay for employees)
- An obvious consequence of what is stated in the contract (for example, that you will do your work in a competent and careful manner)
Statutory employment rights and your contract
Terms of employment that are set out in employment legislation replace (or override) any earlier agreement that you may have had with your employer. For example, your statutory right to take maternity leave overrides any agreement between you and your employer that you will not take maternity leave.
How to make a complaint
If your employer does not give you written details of your terms of employment, you should speak to them about this directly.
If you cannot resolve your complaint informally, you can complain to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) using their online complaint form. You must have at least one month’s continuous service with the employer before you can complain to the WRC.
Read more about how to make a complaint, including details of the WRC adjudication process.
Read more about contracts of employment on the Workplace Relations Commission’s (WRC’s) website. You can also download their explanatory booklet on the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts (pdf).
Or, contact the WRC’s Information and Customer Services.