New working from home law: what employers need to know
Workers in Ireland are to have the right to request remote working from their employer under plans for new legislation published by the government. The legislation is set to be introduced in September 2021 in a strategy published by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade, and Employment, Leo Varadkar.
Titled: “Making Remote Work: National Remote Work Strategy,” the strategy aims to strengthen the rights and responsibilities of workers and employers for remote working and provide the infrastructure to do so. Also included will be a legally admissible code of practice on the right to disconnect for work related emails and phone calls. The Irish government has now realised that employment rights need to be updated and that they need to give guidance to employers who are in favour of facilitating remote working as an option for their employees.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a cultural shift towards working from home (WFH). The past 12 months in Ireland have shown how viable the option can be for employers and employees. Employees are now getting used to the idea and want remote, blended, and flexible working arrangements as part of their working relationship with their employer. People are seeing that there can be huge benefits – more flexibility, less commuting, more time for family and friends. There is no argument that WFH has had a positive impact on employees’ work-life balance.
Plans to accelerate the rollout of the National Broadband Plan are under proposal while the government is to promote blended working to allow people more flexibility on how they work. The strategy commits to investing in remote work hubs and ensure they are in suitable locations for childcare and commuters. The main objective of the strategy is to make remote working “a permanent feature in the Irish workplace in a way that maximises economic, social and environmental benefits”.
For employers, one of the most significant elements of the strategy is the plan for employees to have a new legal right to request remote working arrangements. This is a fundamental change in Irish employment law and is due to provisionally come into effect in September 2021.
If an employee asks to work from home, do I have to say yes?
Not necessarily. While the new law has not yet been finalised, reports indicate that employers may refuse an employee’s request for remote working on “objectively justifiable grounds”. What this means, in theory, is that if an employer is going to refuse the employee’s request, they need a good reason for it. If an employee is not satisfied with the reason for refusing their request, then they may have the right to make a claim against their employer in the Workplace Relations Commission.