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Will Ireland’s next remote working guidelines include a right to disconnect?

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William Fry associate Darran Brennan outlines what he expects to see in the Government’s reviewed guidelines for remote work.

In July, the Irish Government launched a public consultation on remote working guidelines. Submissions were open up to 7 August, with the responses collected set to help shape public policy on remote working.

Darran Brennan, an associate in William Fry’s employment and benefits team, would like to see that any updated guidelines reflect the lessons learned from the nation’s recent dramatic shift to remote working.

Under Covid-19 public health guidance, any workers who can work from home are advised to do so, and this has meant a step-change in how many businesses operate. Aside from just ensuring business continuity during this transformation, companies have had to address all aspects of employment under this new model of work.

“In particular, what we expect to see in those guidelines is advice for employers on cybersecurity, on health and safety, on tax issues, on managing employees with disabilities while working remotely, on managing data security issues, and so on and so forth,” said Brennan, outlining his hopes for forthcoming Government guidance.

The right to disconnect

These are the topics William Fry’s employment law team is currently exploring in an article series on the future of work in Ireland.

Already this series has examined the lack of current guidance in Ireland on the right to disconnect. This right is already in place for workers in France, where companies with more than 50 employees must guarantee workers the right to disconnect from technology when they leave the office. In effect since 2017, this law was inspired by the modern workplace’s ‘always on’ capabilities, which can lead to overwork and burnout among employees.

In Ireland, cases such as O’Hara v Kepac brought this to the attention of both employers and employees. Gráinne O’Hara, a business executive at a Kepak subsidiary, said she worked close to 60 hours a week, handling emails after midnight. Her employer was ordered by the Labour Court to pay out €7,500 in a ruling that was said to be “a massive wake-up call to employers who expect employees to be available 24 hours a day seven days a week”.

According to Brennan, this and awareness of the right to disconnect in other jurisdictions has prompted action even without legislation.

“While the EU and Ireland are both looking at these sort of rights now, employers and employees have taken the initiative already,” he said. “We’ve seen some public announcements from various employers and companies of new right to disconnect policies that they’ve implemented, and also some anecdotal stories from employees such as one particular employee who decided to add an automatic reply with ‘return to sender’ after 6pm.”

Indeed, AIB recently agreed what has been described as the first right to disconnect policy in the country with the Financial Services Union.

“Those sort of examples show to you that the people are starting to react already, but that guidelines are important,” Brennan added.

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Further guidance needed

The shift to remote working, especially under unplanned circumstances, has been a leap for many employers to take. This led to many queries into the legal team at William Fry regarding employment law and duty of care outside of the office and into employees’ homes.

“Physical health and safety with things like ergonomic assessments, provision of equipment – those are understood by most employers. And even where employers only had one or two employees ever working from home, they understood those physical assessments. What’s new now for employees and employers are wellbeing, performance management, team ethos,” explained Brennan.

“Those are the sort of things that employees and employers must work together on, and also must get some guidance from Government on.”

Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke is editor of Siliconrepublic.com having served a few years as managing editor up to 2019. She joined in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs news. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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