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Differences in employment law between Great Britain and Northern Ireland


One of the most common mistakes people make is to confuse the terms “Great Britain” and “the United Kingdom (UK)”. The distinction is important not just for geographers, but also for employment lawyers and HR professionals. Great Britain consists of England, Scotland and Wales. The UK includes England, Scotland and Wales, but also includes Northern Ireland (NI). This guidance outlines the differences in employment law between Great Britain and NI, and throughout, the term “Britain” is used to denote Great Britain.

Employment law for Britain is determined by the Westminster Government, i.e. it is not devolved to Scotland or Wales. Employment and discrimination law was devolved to the NI Assembly in 1998, although some legislation such as the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to NI as well as the rest of the UK. Over the years, most of the legislation passed by Westminster was also enacted in NI with the result that most employment rights are, in practice, the same as in Britain (although the legal references are often different due to NI specific legislation). There are, however, some divergences and this guidance explains what the main differences are.

Key points

  • The law in Northern Ireland largely follows that of Great Britain. 
  • However, due to the parliament in Northern Ireland being non-operational for a significant amount of time, there are a number of pieces of legislation that have not been replicated in Ireland, such as the continued use of "compromise agreements" rather than "settlement agreements" and the possibility to continue to use exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts. 
  • Another key difference is that Northern Ireland continues to apply the Statutory Disciplinary and Dismissal procedure, which was removed in Great Britain and replaced with the Acas code of practice some time ago.