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Ireland to legislate for the right to work remotely

Out-Law News | 20 Jan 2021 | 12:01 pm | 2 min. read

The Irish government has published its National Remote Work Strategy, which aims to  provide legislation which would grant employees the right to request remote working and to introduce a code of practice on the right to disconnect.

The strategy (33 page / 3MB PDF) aims to build on the shift to remote working that has taken place as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and address some of the challenges posed for employees caused by remote working. The government said remote working had the potential to fundamentally change the nature of work and, in turn, bring about economic, social, environmental, special and cultural change.

Employment law expert Jason McMenamin of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “While employees can currently request the right to remote work from their employers, there is no legal framework around which a request can be framed. Hopefully by introducing legislation employees will be provided with a framework around which such a request could be based. Equally the introduction of such legislation should provide clarity to employers on best practice on dealing with such requests.”

Employment law expert Ciara Ruane of Pinsent Masons said employers needed to work closely with employees to make flexible and remote working policies successful.

“As many employees continue to work from home, ensuring employees can switch off will be a key item on the agenda for many employers. Many employers have already taken proactive steps to encourage employees to disconnect and have, for example, introduced email footers and automatic out of offices that highlight employees are not required to respond outside working hours,” Ruane said.

“Employee engagement will be key in ensuring any flexible working policy is smoothly introduced and therefore employers should seek input from their employees on flexible working arrangements,” Ruane said.

In addition to plans to bring forward legislation to make the right to request remote working a legal right, the government said it would also provide employers and employees with ongoing up-to-date guidance on remote work.

It will also mandate that home and remote working should be the norm for 20% of public sector employment, although acknowledged that achieving this posed challenges for sectors such as health, where the majority of staff worked on the frontline.

The Tax Strategy Group is to review the treatment of remote working ahead of the 2022 Budget. The government added it would map and invest in a network of remote working hubs across Ireland and accelerate the provision of high-speed broadband.

The announcement of a code of practice on the right to disconnect follows a consultation launched by the Workplace Relations Commission in December 2020 on that topic, which closes on 22 January.

“While remote working is not a new phenomenon, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the practice in a way none of us could have ever predicted. Employers should be aware that remote working is likely to become a central feature of the future workplace even after the Covid-19 pandemic has passed and that they should ensure that they have the relevant remote working policies and procedures in place,” McMenamin said.