Analysis: as there is no one-size-fits-all employment contract, here's a guide to the various contracts which employees may be offered

While the trend during the 20th century shifted towards working eight hours per day up to 48 hours per week, the way in which we work now has changed with the emergence of irregular employment arrangements, including permanent, full-time, part-time, fixed-term and other flexible arrangements.

Just as there are many different types of employment arrangements, there is no one-size-fits-all employment contract. For some people, having a more flexible employment contract is attractive as it can facilitate work while balancing other life commitments such as childcare, caring responsibilities, studying etc.

The nature of your employment arrangement determines your employment contract. If you are hired to work for only a certain number of hours on a regular basis that amount to less than a typical 48 hour working week, it is likely that you have a part-time contract. If you are hired for the purpose of maternity leave cover, then it is likely that you will be provided with a fixed-term contract. The duration of your employment contract is important in respect of your employment rights and entitlements.

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Permanent contracts

A permanent contract is a full-time contract with no specified end date. While there is often a perception that a permanent contract is a ‘job for life’ from which you can never be dismissed, this is not the case. The employer or employee can terminate a permanent contract by providing the other party with notice (subject to any contractual or legislative requirements concerning the required notice period). Employers can also terminate a permanent contract for reasons of redundancy, or in circumstances where dismissal of a permanent employee may be warranted on grounds such as misconduct.

Fixed-term contracts

Fixed-term contracts are for a specified duration or for specific purposes, such as to cover a period of maternity leave or career breaks or to work on a specific project. A fixed-term contract will have a specific start date. Termination of a fixed-term contract can occur where the date is indicated in the contract, notice is given by either party or, in some situations, the completion of the required task or event for which you were employed.

The Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003 contains legal protections for fixed term employees. Fixed-term employees must not be treated less favourably regarding their conditions of employment than a comparable permanent employee. This means that a fixed-term employee should be treated equally in respect of pay, access to training, entitlement to annual leave and maternity leave etc. However, employers can lawfully treat fixed-term employees less favourably than comparable permanent employees in certain situations, such as access to pension schemes.

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Contracts of indefinite duration

There are legal restrictions on the use of successive fixed-term contracts. If you have been employed on two or more successive fixed-term contracts for a four year period, you could be entitled to a contract of indefinite duration. To qualify for a contract of indefinite duration, you must be continuously employed on broadly similar terms and conditions on the previous fixed-term contracts.

The employer can refuse to issue a contract of indefinite duration for objective reasons, and lawfully issue another fixed-term contract. In those circumstances, the employer is obliged to provide you with written reasons explaining why you have been refused a contract of indefinite duration.

Part-time contracts

The Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001 contains legal protection for part-time employees including apprentices and casual workers. Part-time employees are also entitled not to be treated less favourably than full-time comparable employees in respect of the terms and conditions of their employment contracts unless the employer has an objectively justifiable reason for doing so.

Zero-hour contracts

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The emergence of the gig economy saw a rise in the use of zero-hour contracts. These did not guarantee a minimum number of hours of work, but the employee was required to be available for either a specified number of hours, or as and when required by the employer, or both. This generated quite a lot of uncertainty for employees regarding regularity of hours and pay.

The use of zero-hour contracts is now prohibited, although there are some exceptions which are permissible in very limited specified circumstances (such as work of a casual nature, emergency situations and short-term relief to cover absences). The Employment Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018 has also introduced provisions for banded contract hours providing employees the right to work an average number of hours over a 12 month period. It also guarantees a right to minimum payment if an employee is called into work but no work is provided.

Notice periods and employment contracts

The ending of an employment contract is not always the result of controversy or grievance between the parties. Often termination of an employment contract is the consequence of the employee deciding to change jobs so they hand in their notice, or in some situations ending the employment contract may simply be the conclusion of a fixed-term contract. An employer can also provide notice to terminate the employment contract, which may be due to the ending of the purpose of the contract (e.g. completion of the project the employee was hired to work on) or where there is a restructuring of the business.

Your employment contract may contain details of the notice period to be given if either you or the employer wish to terminate the employment relationship. If there is no reference to this, the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts, 1973-2001 provides guidance on how much notice must be given.

The notice period varies depending on the length of time that you have been in continuous service for that employer. There is also a requirement that you must have been working for at least 13 weeks to qualify for a minimum notice period of one week. If you have worked for less than this 13-week period, you will not be eligible for one week’s notice (unless your contract of employment stipulates otherwise). Your employment contract may outline that a greater period of notice is required, so it would be common for a longer period of notice to be provided in certain professions, such as teaching.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ