Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to explore attitudes to employment law and the consequent impact of legislation on Irish employment relations practice.Design/methodology/approach - The paper adopts a comparative approach using two separate pieces of employment law governing race equality, and employee information and consultation, respectively. Semi-structured interviews with key informants are the main data source, augmented in the case of the information and consultation legislation by focus groups in individual workplaces.Findings - The empirical evidence presented suggests that legislation is not the primary initiator of change. In the case of race equality the market was found to be a key determinant of practice (termed "market-prompted voluntarism"). However, it is argued that regulation can influence change in organisations, depending on the complex dynamic between a number of contingencies, including the aspect of employment being regulated, the presence of supportive institutions, and organisation-specific variables.Practical implications - The comparative findings in this research allow some important inferences to be made regarding the use of law to mandate change in employment relations practice. They, in turn, provide useful lessons for future policy makers, managers, trade unionists and workers.Originality/value - This paper is unique in its comparison of two separate pieces of legislation. In both cases considered, the legislation was prompted by EU Directives, and the obligation on member states to transpose these Directives into national law. The findings suggest that readiness for legislation, based on length of national debate and acceptance of the underlying concept, can influence its impact. The concept of equality seems to have gained widespread acceptance since the debate provoked by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, understanding and acceptance of the concept of employee voice has been much less pronounced in the Anglo-Saxon world.