Workforce of the future report

Remote working laws consolidated

The total number of employees working from home increased to 750,000 people in 2022 according to the CSO, with one-third of workers indicating they now work from home for at least part of their week.

Figures from Census 2022 suggest that four out of five business, media, and public service professionals avail of home working, with the proportion of workers in science, research, engineering, and technology professionals group who work from home also sitting at 78 per cent.

It comes as no surprise that in order to support these increased numbers, the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, as well as the new Code of Practise with the Workplace Relations Commission has been established.

A new law on the right to request remote working is set out in part three of the Act. From 7 March 2024, all employees now have the new legal right to request remote working. To avail of remote working, an employee must have six months of continuous service before the arrangement can start. However, employees are legally entitled to request remote working from their first day in a new job.

Furthermore, the law sets out that if an employee leaves their job but returns to the employer within 26 weeks, the intervening period does not count towards the six month requirement.

To request remote working, the application to the employer must specify the total days and which days are requested, the proposed starting date, and the reasons for requesting remote working.

Reasons can vary, but could include optimising quality of life, personal or domestic circumstances, reducing daily commutes, facilitating neurodiversity or special medical needs that would require a quiet working environment.

Workplace Relations Commission

To accompany the new legislation, following a request from then-Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Simon Coveney TD, the Workplace Relations Commission has prepared the Code of Practise for Employers and Employees Right to Request Flexible Working and Right to Request Remote Working.

Prepared by representations from trade unions, employer representative bodies and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the new code aims to provide practical guidance to employers, employees, and any other persons as to the steps that may be taken for complying with one or more provisions required by the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023.

Specifically, the purpose of the Code is to:

  • set out the detail of the processes regarding making and managing requests for remote working including when changes are sought or made to the agreed arrangement;
  • support employers in objective, fair and reasonable decision-making when considering requests for remote working;
  • offer practical guidance on best practice to employers, employees and/or their representatives to ensure compliance with the legislation;
  • assist in developing workplace policies and procedures for dealing with flexible working and remote working requests so as to provide clarity, transparency, and consistency for both employees and employers;
  • provide guidance for the resolution of disputes in relation to requests for remote working insofar as it relates to the processing of the requests; and
  • provide information to the public in relation to the relevant enactments.

Employer response to remote working requests

According to the new code, after a request has been produced, the employer must respond as soon as “reasonably practicable” but no later than four weeks.

Additionally, within four weeks of receiving the request, the employer must approve the request, refuse it, or provide notice in writing that they need more time. This extended period cannot exceed eight weeks.

Furthermore, the employer should consider a request in an “objective, fair, and reasonable manner” before making their decision.

Owen Reidy, General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) reflected on the recent changes to legislation and code of practise: “It is good for businesses who get to retain valuable and often highly-trained staff. It is good for society and for the economy too. It will help close the gender gaps in employment, care, pay and pensions. Everyone wins.”

Maeve McElwee on Director of Employee Relations of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec) also commented on the legislation for remote working, and emphasised: “The concept of remote working remains an evolving one, the benefits and challenges of which will continue to emerge in the post-pandemic workplace. Where legislation is enacted in this area, it must be sufficiently agile to enable employers and employees alike to reap the benefits remote working can offer.”

Speaking on the publication of the Code, Audrey Cahill, Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission said: “I wish to acknowledge the assistance of ICTU and Ibec for their collaboration during the process, to ensure that the extensive stakeholder information was factored into the Code to produce the comprehensive final version that we believe will support all those to whom it is relevant.”

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