€7,500 award for worker who dealt with emails out of hours
A business executive at a subsidiary of meat producer Kepak has been awarded €7,500 over being required to deal with out-of-hours work emails, including some after midnight, that led to work in excess of 48 hours a week.
At the Labour Court, Kepak Convenience Foods Unlimited Co has been ordered to pay former business development executive Gráinne O'Hara €7,500 over repeated breaches of the Organisation of Working Time Act.
Employment law expert and solicitor Richard Grogan said yesterday that the "excellent, very clear and precise" Labour Court ruling "will serve as a massive wake-up call to employers who expect employees to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week".
"The law is very clear. Employees are entitled to an uninterrupted 11-hour break between finishing work and starting work the following day," he said.
Mr Grogan said employers have left themselves "open to claims when requiring employees to be available 24/7. It is a health and safety issue".
In the case, Ms O'Hara's contract of employment with the Kepak firm required her to work 40 hours per week, but she argued she worked close to 60 hours a week, sometimes dealing with work emails after midnight. In support of her complaint, she submitted copies of emails she sent to and/or received from her employers both before normal start time and after normal finish time on numerous occasions over the course of her employment.
According to the Labour Court, these emails ranged from 5pm to midnight in most cases, but instances of emails sent after midnight were also included in the documents.
In addition, Ms O'Hara submitted emails that were sent to her employers and responses that were received before 8am.
Ms O'Hara started work with the Kepak firm at its Blanchardstown facility in Dublin in July 2016 and as part of her work, she spent a considerable part of her time travelling between customer sites in Dublin and Leinster.
Ms O'Hara's employment ended on April 14, 2017.
In response to Ms O'Hara's claims, the Kepak firm submitted the volume of work undertaken by Ms O'Hara was in line with that undertaken by other members of staff, none of whom works in excess of the 48-hour maximum set out in legislation.
Ms O'Hara's immediate manager at the company Colm Conneely said Ms O'Hara had been inducted into the company through a comprehensive training programme designed to ensure she understood her duties and was capable of undertaking and discharging them within the statutory working week.
In its findings, however, the Labour Court noted the Kepak firm did not produce a full file of Ms O'Hara's emails and offered no evidence to contradict her evidence in this regard.
The court found the Kepak firm was, through Ms O'Hara's operation of its software and through the emails she sent it, aware of the hours she was working and took no steps to curtail the time she spent working.