Wide range of demands leave employers warier than ever

Life is not easy for employers, with Brexit preparations, adverse currency movements, hikes in input costs, and an ever-increasing range of demands in the field of compliance.

At times, some manager must wonder about the mountain of regulation with which they are now faced.

They must also be aware that moves to tackle one particular legal compliance problem could leave them open to challenge on another front as a result of an unintended breach of someone else’s rights.

A year ago, senior managers were preparing for the General Data Protection Regulation.

For many, GDPR became the new Y2K or millennium bug — preparations for such event absorbed much managerial time in the late 1990s.

The Data Protection Act 2018 was passed into law on May 25 last year, bringing in a raft of requirements. A year on, the new regulations are biting.

Writing in the Law Society Gazette recently, solicitor Terry McAdam reported that clients are “currently experiencing a significant increase in the volume of data subject requests”.

Employee confidentiality has been top of the agenda at a time when personal data breaches have been attracting huge attention.

Mr McAdam also warns of the threat posed by hackers or by carelessness within an organisation.

Data breaches occur in every organisation. Simple user errors such as sending an email to an unintended recipient are commonplace while cyber attacks represent a growing risk to all professionals services firms.

Firms need to get up to speed with the appointment of data controllers. The relationship with individual employees needs to be handled with ever more care.

Recently, the French data protection body imposed a €50m fine on Google — the largest to date since the passage of the new law.

The legal caravan moves on and this year, issues surrounding gender equality and family-friendly work practices have been to the forefront at various employment law conferences.

Suffice to say that employers must pay far greater attention to gender pay gap reporting, in particular.

At the recent Ibec employment conference, solicitor Aoife McFadden addressed competing equality rights. This is particularly evident in the area of family leave, both maternal and paternal.

As Ms McFadden noted, there are limits to the extent to which employers can engage in positive action in favour of one gender — usually female.

She cites the case of a Mr Briheche, a French widower who was left unable to take advantage of an abolition of age limits in promotional competitions that was open to widows. The European Court of Justice ruled the favouring of widows over widowers was disproportionate.

The decision could be relevant in the context of a recently announced plan for the promotion of gender equality in Irish higher education institutions. Elsewhere, interesting developments have been taking place in the area of workplace investigations.

Terence McCann, a senior partner with McCann Fitzgerald Solicitors, pointed to a number of recent cases dealing with procedures for handling disciplinary investigations.

These include cases brought against the Dunboyne Castle Hotel and the Catholic University School, Dublin.

The case concerned the handing out by the school of a final written warning to a teacher over his ‘inappropriate behaviour’ towards a student.

What is interesting to note is the contrasting viewpoints adopted by various judges involved in hearing the case in both the High Court and Court of Appeal.

Three judges, three diverging opinions, three contrasting philosophical outlooks. Taking someone or some organisation to court can amount to a trip into the unknown.