If a salary reduction is imposed without consultation or employee agreement, an employee now only has three (rather than four) potential legal opportunities to seek redress from his or her employer.

If an employee’s wages are cut his or her first option is to claim Constructive Dismissal under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1997-2007. Constructive Dismissal is the term used when an employee terminates his or her employment based on the conduct of the employer. In this instance, the employee must be able to prove that their position became unsustainable as a direct result of the involuntary reduction in pay.

Secondly, where an employee’s salary is reduced, he or she has the opportunity to bring a trade dispute under the Industrial Relations Acts. The Industrial Relations Acts deal with disputes between employers and workers that are connected with the employment or non-employment, or the terms and conditions of or affecting the employment, of any person.

Thirdly, if an employer cuts an employee’s pay, the employee could claim that their contract has been breached. Defending this could prove very costly for the employer. Furthermore, an injunction may be granted to prevent the contract breach/reinstate the original salary.

In the past employees whose wages were cut without prior consent had a fourth option. They had the opportunity to take a case (and were likely to succeed) under the Payment of Wages Act 1991. Claims in relation to a reduction in wages, however, may no longer be successful if taken under this Act as a result of a recent Employment Appeals Tribunal determination. The specific EAT case referenced here is an appeal of a Right’s Commissioner decision in the case of Santry Sports Clinic v 5 employees.

The employees in the aforementioned case were claiming for an 8% reduction in their pay that was imposed between February and March 2010. Santry Sports Clinic stated that the reduction was essential. According to the employer, all employees received letters detailing the 8% reduction in advance and, while only 30% of employees agreed to the reduction via return letters, no one officially objected or stated that they would not accept the pay cut and so it was implemented as planned.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal considered all evidence and representations made at the hearing as well as all other submissions made. The Tribunal noted the High Court decision in the case of Michael McKenzie and others and Ireland and the Attorney General and the Minister for Defence Rec. No. 2009. 5651JR. In paragraph 5.8 of this decision the Judge stated that “the Payment of Wages Act has no application to reductions as distinct from ‘deductions’.” The Tribunal followed the High Court decision on a point of law and, therefore, the appeal was successful and the decision of the Rights Commissioner was entirely overturned in the case of Santry Sports Clinic v 5 employees.

This case brought to light the fact that the Payment of Wages Act 1991 refers to “deductions” as opposed to “reductions” and, as a consequence, employees whose wages are reduced without prior consent are now unlikely to succeed if they opt to take a case against their employer under the Payment of Wages Act 1991.

This is particularly significant for claims that are currently being processed by the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

Employers need to remember that, although this option has essentially been closed off for employees as a result of the above-mentioned High Court decision and the EAT case, they still have several avenues open to them if they wish to take a claim where a reduction of wages has been imposed by the employer without prior consent.

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