Your rights in the workplace

The most important thing in any job, whatever the company, is that you are healthy and happy in the workplace. No matter how hard you work, you can’t work well if you are not content in the place you are at work and the work you are doing. Your rights in the workplace are enshrined in law. They cover elements such as human rights, sexual and ethnic diversity, disabilities and more.

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Workplace rights

The days of a ‘job for life’ are, for the most part, behind us now, with the work landscape more dynamic, and in some ways more volatile, than in decades past. In some sectors, working arrangements can be precarious and uncertain, and often short-lived due to the demand by so many to get into sectors such as academia and media, for example. This is a factor contributing to declining trade union membership, as people can be reluctant to join if they think they won’t be around for long, and if membership could impede their chance of a more stable working relationship.

Unions aren’t popular with everyone, but over the years they have secured vital rights such as minimum wages, maternity and employment protection protocols. As a worker you do have a constitutional right to join a trade union, but there is no obligation upon an employer to recognise or engage with the union, and they are unable to talk to staff in the workplace, which has made recruitment more difficult for unions. But if you are interested, remember you have that right, even as a graduate. For many, they view joining trade unions as a political act rather than a working rights one, which is also fine, but make sure you join for the right reasons and not to agitate unnecessarily, as you won’t be helping either the employer or the trade union.

Your workplace rights are enshrined in legislation. These are the Terms of Employment Acts (1994–2014), the Employments Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Act of 2018. You can view all these documents in the Employment section of


Yes, it still happens, both discreetly and overtly. The Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission ( operates a phone service (+353 1 858 3000) for people concerned that their rights may have been breached in relation to gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, race, disability or ethnicity. In 2018 the commission dealt with 1,711 public concerns about discrimination. The top three public concerns under the Employment Equality Acts focused on discrimination in employment and job seeking on the grounds of disability (30%), gender (25%) and race (16%).

Emily Logan, chief commissioner of the Irish Human rights and Equality Commission, says it is important that graduates who are newly entering the workplace are aware of employment rights.

“Discrimination in the workplace can happen when your employer, workmate, or a company you are applying to, treats you less favourably than another person because of who you are. The legislation which deals with this is covered by the Employment Acts mentioned above and these are designed to ensure that people have equal opportunities in relation to skills, training, jobs and promotion. These acts apply to fulltime, part-time and temporary workers in the public and private sector as well as to people hired through agencies.”

Graduates with disabilities

Ann Heelan is executive director of the Association for Higher Education Access and disability (AHEAD). She points out that fewer than 33% of working-age people, often with disabilities, are employed. Visually impaired and blind people have difficulty getting through the Leaving Cert, while deaf and hearing-impaired students also struggle and these problems are exacerbated by the complexities of third-level study and entering the Workplace.

“People can have stereotypical attitudes and unconscious biases about disability. If a student with a disability does make it through college, they are less likely to go on to a postgrad which puts them at a greater disadvantage. If a student applies for a job, they may have gaps on their CV because their disability may have prevented them from getting work experience, or they may have a 2.2 degree because of the impact of their disability. But these are students who spent their whole lives solving problems which most other employees never have to experience, and may be good for the employer, but sometimes the employer has rigid requirements in the job application and this can put people off applying.”

AHEAD now runs the Willing Able Mentoring (WAM) programme, which matches graduates with disabilities to employers and supports and advises the employer on how they can accommodate employees, whether that’s a special chair, a more flexible working day or access to an interpreter.

It is funded by the Department of Social Protection and provides six to nine months of fully paid internships in both the public and private sectors. The programme has placed over 400 students with disabilities with employers, including major names such as the public and civil service, Bank of Ireland, ESB, Bank of America, Dell and Salesforce.

Gender discrimination

“Women are surprised when they enter the workplace and discover that there is more discrimination than they expected,” says Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council ( “There is a perception that the pay gap happens later on, when women start having children.

“Actually, it happens within three or four years of entering the workplace. Focusing on what individual women should do to tackle this is misguided; organisations and employers, particularly those at senior levels, need to lead change.”

According to Ivana Bacik TD, despite all the progress, there is still a long way to go to ensure gender equality in terms of pay. It has been estimated that despite changes in gender equality generally and progressive change for women’s rights in Ireland over the past 11 years, the gender pay gap has narrowed only four percentage points.

“At current rates, the National Women’s Council estimates it will take up to 170 years before it fully closes. We cannot wait that long, and the government should take the opportunity to now proceed with legislation. It would have been fitting and timely to have addressed the gender pay gap.” The government is currently in the process of formulating a gender pay-gap law to cover all firms that employ more than 50 staff. The law currently applies to firms with over 250 employees, and should now cover smaller employers too, but it has been criticised for not covering all employers.

Areas where women can feel pressure in their career include when they enter the workplace, when they go for promotion or when they are pregnant, with the latter adding particular pressure on women both before they leave to have a baby and when they return to the workplace.

Sexual diversity

Like in other areas, there has been progress in terms of employment equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT+) people, but a lot of work remains to be done. Larger companies and elements of the public service have made their environments more open and supportive for LGBT+ employees, but in smaller organisations that may not be the case and bullying and sexual phobias continue in places. Rights may not be the same as equality, but it is positive that LGBT+ people have access to forums like the Workplace Relations Commission and support groups such as It is positive that companies are moving from tolerance to a more inclusive environment where diversity is used as a strength for the organisation.

When reviewing application forms, employers are looking at a number of areas. Specifically, academic achievement is important, work experience can be a differentiator and extra-curricular activities can set some applications apart. Most graduates have key strengths or abilities that set them apart from their peers and it’s important to highlight these. Additionally, graduates should ensure career motivation is obvious by making sure their application form highlights their desire to work within the chosen industry and with the company specifically. Finally, good grammar is very important. An employer may draw conclusions from poor grammar.

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