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Right to request remote work: New legislation in Ireland is ‘a priority’

20 Aug 2021

The Tánaiste has been seeking public input on a legal framework for employees to request remote work.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has published the results of a public consultation on a legal framework for employees to request remote work.

Earlier this year, the Government released a National Remote Work Strategy, aiming to make the practice a permanent part of work in Ireland post-pandemic. Since then, it has been requesting comments from the public on how the law should facilitate an employee’s right to request remote work.

During that process 175 submissions were received, mostly from individual workers but also from employers, unions and industry groups. These results will be used to inform legislation on the topic.

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Tánaiste and Minister of the Department Leo Varadkar, TD, commented: “We have a real opportunity now to make remote and blended working a much bigger part of normal working life. Introducing a right to request remote working will set out a clear framework to facilitate remote and blended work options, in so far as possible.

“It will ensure that when an employer declines a request, there are stated reasons for doing so and conversations with workers are taking place in a structured way. We recognise that remote working won’t work for everyone or for every organisation, so the Government will take a balanced approach with the new legislation.”

The overwhelming majority of respondents to the process (84pc) said that employers should be compelled to have a remote work policy that employees and the Workplace Relations Commission can inspect. Employers said that guidance from Government on how to create such a policy would be helpful.

A similar majority (85pc) of respondents said that employers should bear the cost of equipment for remote working and pay to maintain that equipment.

However, 44pc of employers and employer representative groups said that they would be “not confident” in carrying out a risk assessment of an employee’s home or remote workplace, currently. More than half of those respondents said comprehensive health and safety guidelines would help raise that confidence.

“Because of the pandemic, a lot of people are required to work from home,” Varadkar continued. “After the pandemic, people should have a choice, so long as the work gets done and business and service needs are met. That’s the principle I want to apply.

“The intention is to introduce a mechanism for employees to request remote working that is fair to workers but does not place an undue burden on employers. This new legislation will be a priority in the new Dáil term. We will also continue to provide up-to-date advice, guidance and information on all aspects of remote working for workers and employers.”

This legislation is part of a broader effort by the Government to regulate the future of work in Ireland. Earlier this year, Varadkar signed a code of practice on the right to disconnect from work-related tasks outside of the working day.

In a more immediate sense, many businesses are seeking guidance from Government on when and how to return to the workplace as more of the population is vaccinated. However, uncertainty remains, and for some the process may yet be months away.

In the US, Apple is the latest big company to delay its return to the office as Covid-19 cases surge there, following shortly after Facebook’s recent announcement.

Jack Kennedy
By Jack Kennedy

Jack Kennedy is a freelance journalist based in Dublin, coming from a background in computer and electronic engineering. He currently serves as the editor of Trinity News, Ireland’s oldest student newspaper. He’s interested in international relations and has strong feelings about baseball.

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