The Right to Request Remote Working Bill 2022 provides the first legal framework for Irish employees to make a request for remote work – and for employers to approve or refuse them. It comes amid a shift away from more traditional work patterns in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the height of which saw many Irish workers told to work-from-home for the first time.
Under the terms of the Bill, employers will be required to put in place a formal remote working policy that specifies how remote working requests will be managed, the time frame in which a decision will be made and the specific conditions that will apply. Firms that fail to do so face a fine of up to €2,500.
Jason McMenamin, employment expert at Pinsent Masons, said: “All workplaces will have to have a written statement in place which sets out the company’s remote working policy. Employee engagement will be key in ensuring that this policy is smoothly introduced, if not already in place. We recommend that employers seek input from their employees on remote working arrangements when drafting such a policy, where remote working is possible.”
“Interestingly, an employee will only be eligible to submit a request for remote working once they have worked for their employer for a period of six months, though an employer is free to offer remote work from day one if they wish,” he added.
The Bill will require employers to diligently complete remote working assessments and return their decisions to employees within 12 weeks.
When employers refuse a remote working request, employees will be entitled to be told why. The Bill suggests acceptable “business grounds” for refusal may include the fact that the work cannot be properly performed remotely, that doing so might have a negative impact on the quality of the product or service they provide – or a negative impact on the performance of other employees.
Employers will also be able to cite concerns for the suitability of the proposed workspace on health and safety or data protection grounds, as well as concerns for the proposed workplace’s internet connectivity and the commute distance to the business’s on-site location.
Other grounds for refusal include planned structural changes to the company, the burden of additional costs posed by the request, an ongoing or a recently concluded formal disciplinary process involving the employee in question, as well as conflicts with the provisions of an applicable collective agreement.
Employees may appeal their employer’s decision to reject a remote working request, but will have to wait for a period of 12 months to submit another request if their appeal fails. If, however, an employee moves to a new role within the same company, they may submit a fresh request without waiting. There will also be a right of appeal to the Workplace Relations Commission where an employer has failed to return a decision on a request, to provide notice of the grounds for refusal of a request for remote working.
The Bill is expected to be finalised and implemented later this year, with plans to develop a code of practice to provide guidance to employers, employees and their representatives on the general principles that apply.
Ciara Ruane, employment expert at Pinsent Masons, said: “As employers prepare for a return to work in light of recent government guidance, it is likely that employers will receive a number of requests to continue to work remotely.”
“As it may be some time before the Bill is finalised and implemented, employers should consider putting a temporary process in place for considering requests to work remotely to ensure that a consistent approach is taken,” she added.