White light switch on a bright blue wooden wall, symbolising the right to disconnect.
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Workers in Ireland now have the right to disconnect

1 Apr 2021

A new code of practice is giving workers in Ireland the right to disconnect, while the Government is looking at how the right to request remote working could be brought into law.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, has signed a code of practice on the right to disconnect from work. This means that all employees in Ireland can from today (1 April) act on this right, with the aim of striking a better work-life balance.

The right to disconnect, which has been on the Government’s future of work agenda for a number of years, entitles workers to ‘switch off’ from work-related tasks outside of normal working hours.

It was discussed in a public consultation in late 2019 and almost exactly a year later, Varadkar launched another consultation to design a code of practice on the topic. It ties in with the Government’s recently launched remote working strategy, which could see remote working become a more permanent option for many in Ireland in the years to come.

“The pandemic has transformed working practices and many of those changes will be long lasting,” Varadkar said.

“Although much of the impact of the pandemic has been negative, particularly for those who have lost jobs, income or whose businesses have been closed, it also offers an opportunity to make permanent changes for the better, whether that’s working more from home, having more time with the family or more flexible working hours.”

As well as signing a new code of practice giving all employees the right to disconnect, Varadkar also opened a public consultation on the right to request remote working, inviting views from the public on how this right could be enshrined in law.

The right to disconnect

The new code of practice contains three rights for workers in Ireland; not to have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours, not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours, and the duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect.

If a person feels that any of these rights are being breached, they can raise the matter with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), which developed the code.

Varadkar said the code comes into practice immediately and applies to all types of employment, “whether you are working remotely or not”.

Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail Damien English, TD, said that the right to disconnect has never been more important given the “seismic shift in work practices this time last year”.

“It will ensure that both employers and employees are aware of their requirements and entitlements and understand how they apply, especially when it is time to unplug and recharge the batteries by switching off properly from work, especially in a remote working scenario,” he said.

WRC director Liam Kelly added that the ability to disconnect from work and work-related devices will require a joint effort by employers and employees. “While placing the onus of management of working time on the employer is appropriate, individual responsibility on the part of employees is also required,” he said.

MEPs have also called on the EU to introduce the right to digitally disconnect from work across Europe.

The right to request remote working

Now that the right to disconnect has been introduced in Ireland, Varadkar wants to shift the spotlight to another topic; the right to request remote working. Again, a public consultation will be held on the matter.

“Putting the right to request remote working into law will provide a clear framework around which requesting, approving or refusing remote work can be based,” he said. “In putting this into law, we recognise that remote working doesn’t work for everyone or for every organisation, so the Government will take a balanced approach with the new legislation.

“I encourage employers and employees alike to engage with this consultation and make their views known.”

While employees can request to work remotely at the moment, there is no legal framework in place to support this. A new law would provide details on how a request could be made and how it should be dealt with by the employer.

You can take part in the public consultation on the right to request remote work here. The deadline for submissions is Friday 7 May.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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