The headline to this article about a former employee who was awarded €64,000 by the High Court last October is somewhat misleading. The award was not directly in respect of working excessive hours. However, working those hours in a physically demanding job contributed to chronic back pain suffered by the employee as a result of his work. As a result, the former employer was found to be negligent. It should be noted however, that the High Court judge also commented that the employee, in failing to look after himself and take the opportunity for rest, was "foolish".
The Court referred to the obligations contained in the Organisation of Working Act 1997, which essentially provides that it is for the employer to ensure that its staff avails of appropriate rest periods. This is so as to minimise the risk of injury, which Allergan failed to do.
Working time, rest, and time off are a health and safety issue for employers. Not only this, employers must also ensure that they have adequate record keeping facilities to show that they have complied with their obligations. While employees may bring a claim under the 1997 Act to the Workplace Relations Commission, it's unlikely that an award of this magnitude would be made, except perhaps in very egregious circumstances. The maximum award that can be made in a claim under the 1997 Act is up to two years' gross remuneration. However, bear in mind that evidence of working excessive hours in this case was used to show that the workload itself was excessive which led to the injury. If it can be shown that it was reasonably foreseeable that working excessively would lead to an injury, then an employer will be held liable for that injury. It's at that point that awards of this magnitude might be made against an employer.
'It took its toll' - Mayo pensioner awarded €64k after working 19 overtime shifts in a row for pharmaceutical giant