With over 60 years’ collective experience and a breadth of knowledge advising on matters in Northern Ireland, England and Wales and ROI, our employment team covers all aspects of employment law, both contentious and non-contentious, recruitment, employment monitoring, disciplinary procedures, long-term absence and contract enforcement.


The team is highly experienced in representing employer clients before the Employment, Industrial & Fair Employment Tribunals and the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal, and Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court in Ireland. We are lead advisors (with our Corporate colleagues) on a large number of the highest profile corporate transactions in Northern Ireland each year.


We regularly advise on mergers and acquisitions including on TUPE matters, service provision issues and outsourcing.  We are also able to advise on pension matters such as auto-enrolment, pension deeds and rules, and on pension issues arising in such mergers. The team are experienced in defending complex, class actions and in advising and representing clients in injunctive applications in the High Court, also appearing in the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal and Labour Court in ROI.


Our Employment team regularly provide updates, webinars and seminars to our clients and are monthly contributors to a national all Ireland HR and training company.

Contact a member of our team for more information.
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Northern Ireland has implemented European legislation that gives certain basic rights to employees. These basic rights are therefore similar to rights enjoyed by employees throughout the EU, however Northern Ireland still has its own unique domestic law, including the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 (ERO), that is based on legislation and decisions of the courts.

The protections enjoyed by employees include:

  • right to a written statement of the basic terms of his/her employment;
  • protection against unfair dismissal after one year’s service;
  • paid holidays (5.6 working weeks);
  • protection against discrimination on grounds of race, gender, pregnancy or maternity, marital or civil partnership status, gender reassignment, religious belief or political opinion, age, disability, sexual orientation and membership of the traveller community;
  • maternity/adoptive leave of up to 52 weeks (eligible employees on maternity leave are entitled to 6 weeks’ pay at 90% of their normal weekly earnings and 33 weeks’ pay at a set weekly rate or 90% of their normal weekly earnings whichever is lower; employees on adoptive leave are entitled to adoption pay for up to 39 weeks at a set weekly rate or 90% of their normal weekly earnings, whichever is lower). These rates are reviewed annually in April each year; and
  • protection of wages. Employees are entitled to a written statement of wages, contributions and deductions. The ERO generally prohibits unauthorised deductions from wages;
  • minimum hourly rate of pay.


In Northern Ireland, the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 prohibits discrimination, harassment or victimisation on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion. It imposes specific monitoring obligations on employers with 10 or more employees to:

  • register with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, and monitor the community background, sex and occupation of their workforce;
  • conduct Article 55 reviews of the composition of their workforce every 3 years; and
  • take affirmative action to ensure fair participation of workers from different community backgrounds, where necessary.


Other Equality Legislation

This includes:

  • Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 (Amended 1988)
  • Equal Pay Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 (Amended 1984)
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995
  • Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997
  • Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (NI) 2006


Employers can protect their business after an employee leaves employment by including post-termination restrictions (Restrictive Covenants) in the employee’s contract of employment. However, such restrictions will only be enforceable if the employer can show that:

  • it has a legitimate business interest that it is necessary to protect; and
  • the protection sought by the restriction is no more than is reasonable having regard to the interests of the parties and the public interest.

Accordingly, restrictive covenants will be limited in terms of time, scope and geographical extent and will only be appropriate in respect of those employees who could damage the legitimate business interests of the employer, for example, senior executives or salesmen.

If a restrictive covenant is wider than is necessary to protect an employer’s legitimate business interests or imposed on employees with limited ability to damage the employer’s business, the restriction will likely be declared void by the courts as a restraint of trade and contrary to public policy.

Restrictions will generally involve:

  • non-solicitation of clients/prospective clients;
  • non-solicitation of key employees;
  • non-interference with suppliers; and
  • non-competition clauses.

Employers can protect confidential information, over and above trade secrets, where an express confidentiality clause has been included in an employee’s contract of employment. Again, however, such clauses must be drafted with sufficient precision for the employer to demonstrate that the clause is necessary to protect its legitimate business interests and goes no further than is reasonable and necessary to protect those business interests following the termination of the employee’s contract.


The National Living Wage applies to workers aged 25 and over. Various rates of the National Minimum Wage apply to workers aged between
21-24 years old, between 18 and 20, under 18, and for apprentices. The national minimum wage applies to virtually all workers whether full-time or part-time, temporary or casual. These rates are reviewed annually in April each year. 

Agricultural workers covered by agricultural wages laws are entitled to the Agricultural Minimum Wage rather than the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage. No agricultural worker can be paid less than the National Minimum Wage. Some agricultural workers must be paid more than the National Minimum Wage because there is a higher Agricultural Minimum Wage rate.

The current rates and additional information can be found through NI Direct


An employer is obliged to deduct income tax, called PAYE (Pay As You Earn) and National Insurance Contributions (NICs) at source from the employee’s monthly/ weekly salary.


Unless an employee has an opt out agreement, or an exemption applies, employees aged 18 or over cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours a week, on average. There are also rules on required rest periods, minimum annual leave and public holidays, and young workers.


Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) and the Service Provision Change (Protection of Employment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 (SPC Regulations)

TUPE implements the EU Directive on Acquired Rights. Existing employees of a business that changes ownership (except for a share transfer) have a right to transfer to the new employer under the same terms and conditions of employment (both contractual and customary), with the exception of occupational pension provisions. The same applies under the Service Provision Change (SPC) Regulations which are commonly applied to work contracts for office cleaning, workplace catering or security where services are changed from one contractor to another, or brought in-house.


Every employee in Northern Ireland has the right to join a trade union but trade union membership is not compulsory. Under the Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 trade unions can apply to the Industrial Court for recognition by an employer. If successful, the trade union may be recognised for collective bargaining relating to pay, holidays and hours.


Employers can also include a clause in an employee’s contract of employment permitting the employer to put the employee on garden leave when notice is given to terminate their employment. This will allow the employer to stop the employee performing their duties immediately whilst retaining the employee for the duration of their notice period. The aim of garden leave is to keep the employee out of the marketplace long enough for any information they have to go out of date or to enable the employee’s successor to establish themselves, particularly with customers, so as to protect goodwill.


Employers are required to provide a work based contributory pension for eligible job holders. Employer contributions rates will be 3% of salary, with employee rate at 5%. Employees may opt out of the scheme.

These laws apply where a contract of employment is governed by the laws of Northern Ireland. Where the parties have not chosen the law, the contract may be governed by the laws of Northern Ireland if this is where the employee carries out their work.

If the employee does not habitually carry out the work in or from one country, the contract is governed by the law of Northern Ireland if the business through which the employee is engaged is situated in Northern Ireland. However, where it appears from the circumstances that the contract is more closely connected with a different country, the law of that country applies. This is a complicated issue and more guidance should be considered.


"We would rate them as excellent, first class. They are very knowledgeable in the area of employment law, leave nothing to chance, respond very promptly, and are superb at anticipating counter-moves. We wouldn’t look beyond Tughans."
Richard Broderick, AB Distributors
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