Tomorrow’s world of work after Covid-19: Ireland

Out-Law Analysis | 22 Jul 2021 | 11:19 am | 3 min. read

Anticipated changes to the law in Ireland mean employers and employees alike should not expect working practices to revert to the way they were in the country before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

The planned new right to request remote working, allied to the new right to disconnect codified earlier this year, will enhance employees’ rights while providing employers with a prompt to review their policies and practices to make them attractive to the next generation of employee.

Dealing with the pandemic

As at 20 July, Ireland had administered 2,989,341 first doses and 2,296,255 second doses of Covid-19 vaccines. Ireland’s population is just under five million. According to recent data, Ireland is one of the world-leading nations in terms of Covid-19 vaccine rollout and has administered 1.07 vaccines per 100 people.

Current guidance from the Irish government is to work from home unless necessary to attend in person. However, the relative speed of the vaccine rollout is causing employers to look at how they might manage a return to the workplace and consider what measures they might introduce to provide for employees’ safety. The recently published Work Safely Protocol, issued by the Irish government, provides a framework for employers to refer to in this regard.

The Work Safely Protocol is the second revision of the Return to Work Safely Protocol first published in May 2020 and sets out the minimum public health measures required in every place of work to prevent the spread of Covid-19. It is designed to facilitate the re-opening of workplaces following temporary closures and the ongoing safe operation of those in the workplace.

One area of uncertainty until recently had been whether employers could insist that employees demonstrate they had been given a Covid-19 vaccine as part of enabling a safe return to the workplace. While there is currently no general government guidance or legal mandate compelling individuals to be vaccinated, this may change in the future. However, in June, the Data Protection Commission (DPC) in Ireland confirmed that the general position is that there is currently “no clear legal basis” for the processing of vaccine data by employers about employees. The DPC also said that the processing of vaccine data by employers is “likely to represent unnecessary and excessive data collection for which no clear legal basis exists”.

Positive developments as a result of the pandemic

In January, the Irish government published its national remote work strategy, which confirmed its intention to legislate to grant employees the right to request remote working.

The strategy also outlined the government’s plans to introduce a code of practice on the right to disconnect. The code was subsequently published in April by Ireland’s Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). The code sets out guidance for employees and employers about employee disengagement outside normal working hours.

In June, the Irish government also approved plans to establish a statutory sick pay scheme for employees which, when enacted, will give employees the right to paid sick leave for the first time.

Tomorrow’s world of work

Based on the national remote work strategy, the Irish government’s objective is to ensure that remote working is a permanent feature in the Irish workplace in a way that maximises economic, social and environmental benefits.

The government’s plan is to:

  • review the treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenditure in the next budget;
  • map and invest in a network or remote working hubs across Ireland, and;
  • legislate for the right to request remote working.

We anticipate that the number of office-based employees is not likely to return to pre-Covid levels and that many employers will introduce smart, flexible, hybrid and remote working policies and procedures to address this.

The impact of the pandemic on travel, particularly of people coming to Ireland from countries outside of the European Economic Area, has exacerbated skills and labour shortages in some sectors of the Irish economy. This appeared to prompt some changes to the employment permit system in June, announced by Damien English, Ireland’s minister of state for business, employment and retail.

The changes resulted in a number roles being added to the critical skills employment list, and a number of roles removed from the ineligible occupation list. It is hoped these amendments will address the shortages in the healthcare and nursing home sectors. We anticipate future amendments to these lists as Ireland continues to reopen.

Co-written by Dublin-based Jason McMenamin of Pinsent Masons.