Diageo’s recent announcement offering 26 weeks paid parental leave to all employees in Ireland, regardless of gender or sexual orientation or whether they became parents biologically, through adoption or surrogacy, is commendable. [It follows the announcement last month that all parents employed by Diageo in the UK are now eligible for the same fully-paid 26 weeks parental leave.] I recently commented [click here] that this announcement illustrates how achieving gender equality is not a one sided affair. Importantly though, it also highlights opportunities for employers in Ireland to use innovative ways to attract talent and differentiate themselves from competitors in an increasingly tighter labour market.

While the size of a business can affect how feasible it is to offer a range of benefits (with some arguing that this will create a two tier workforce), there are a number of ways to sweeten the pot to attract the best talent – for example, healthcare, gym membership, paid duvet day. But whether employers are offering a generous compensation package, a contribution towards a pension or an area for employees’ dog in the office, it is important to consider whether any such benefits will be a contractual entitlement or not.

An employment benefit provided for in a contract of employment will be much more difficult to withdraw or amend at a later date. This is because an employer cannot unilaterally change an employee’s terms and conditions of employment without an employee’s consent.  Some employment related benefits which are not likely to fluctuate are usually contractual, such as additional annual leave days or healthcare entitlement (although such entitlements should always be stated to be subject to the terms of the scheme).   Other employment related benefits introduced by way of a new handbook policy, such as parental leave, charitable leave days or flexible working, are usually stated to be non-contractual.

In either case, care is needed to ensure that any eligibility criteria are made clear and that any benefits provided do not discriminate or treat certain groups of employees less favourably than others.