Late last year, we looked at the health and safety, data protection, and tax implications of remote working in Ireland. With the winter surge of Omicron now having tailed off, many workers are now returning to work in offices across the Republic, according to the latest figures published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
The CSO has revealed that around 80 percent of workers have worked remotely at some point during the pandemic. For workers in the mid-east of Ireland, 93 percent of respondents have expressed a desire to continue working from home where possible, regardless of the level of pandemic restrictions.
The publication from the Government of new legislation in this area will be a timely intervention that should support employers to establish the right balance for their operations and also for their workers. In the next section, we will look at these proposals.
The Right To Request Remote Working Bill
As the name suggests, the new law will give workers in Ireland the right to request the ability to work remotely, where it is appropriate for them to do so.
Speaking on the publication of the new proposals in late January 2022, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade, and Employment, Leo Varadkar, said: "Up until now, remote and home working has been imposed on a lot of people due to the public health restrictions. Now that they have been lifted, I want it to be a choice. I want workers to be able to work from home or remotely or hybrid if they want to. So long as the business get done and services are provided, employers should facilitate it."
"I know throughout the pandemic, many employers have gone to great lengths to give their employees as much flexibility around where they work as possible. We want this to continue. The world of work has changed and I know many would like to retain some amount of remote working once Covid is behind us."
The new legislation will require all places of work to have a clear remote working policy, with a concrete framework for employees to make a remote working request, and with guidelines for employers on whether to approve or refuse such requests.
In addition, an employer's remote working policy will need to prescribe the conditions that apply to employees permitted to work remotely.
There are likely to be a number of situations where an employer will justifiably be able to deny a remote working request, including:
- Where the work in question cannot be undertaken remotely, or the quality of the work or working performance may be negatively affected by the arrangement;
- Where putting in place remote working systems may have a significant adverse impact on costs to the business;
- Where business confidentiality or intellectual property protections may be threatened by such an arrangement;
- Where working practices cannot reasonably be rearranged in order to accommodate remote working; and/or
- Where there may be health and safety considerations that arise under remote working that cannot reasonably be overcome.
When a request has been "unreasonably" denied — for example, by the employer failing to respond, or by them not providing reasonable grounds for refusing the request — the legislation provides that a worker can register an appeal with the Workplace Relations Commission.
The Bill was released recently, in late January. It must first face parliamentary scrutiny before a firm timetable is in place for its implementation. However, the Government reportedly hopes to have the legislation in place during the summer.
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