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What is the Right to Request Remote Work Bill?
This is a proposed legislation that will create for the first time in Irish law a right of an employee to ask his or her employer to work remotely. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything about the world of work, with hundreds of thousands of people forced to work from home. Remote working has wider societal benefits: less congestion on the roads and shorter commuting times, meaning more time spent with friends and families. It could also be of benefit to rural communities as more workers potentially opt not to live in cities.
Who is proposing the Bill?
The commitment to introduce legislation to underpin employees’ right to request remote work was made in the national Remote Work Strategy, published in January 2021. It is a priority for Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who has said employers should continue to facilitate remote working “so long as the business gets done and services are provided”. It is part of a strategy that also includes investing in remote-working hubs across the country and giving workers the right to disconnect, he says.
How is it supposed to work?
It will give the employee the right to request remote working. Employers will be required to provide reasonable grounds for refusing to facilitate an employees’ request. All workplaces must have a written statement that sets out the company’s remote-working policy. Currently there are 13 grounds for refusal, although these are not exhaustive. They include that the nature of the work does not allow for the work to be done remotely; that the work cannot be reorganised among existing staff; and that it would have a potentially negative impact on either work quality or performance.
What will happen if an employer refuses an employee’s request?
The employee will be able to take his or her case to the Workplace Relations Commission, which will adjudicate and issue binding recommendations. An employer may be fined up to ¤2,500 for breaches of the Act. An employee could also take the employer to the District Court.
How is it going down generally?
Not very well, judging by the reaction from the members of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, who examined the heads of the Bill this week. Many believe its terms are vague and weighted in favour of employers. Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly said there should be a presumption in favour of the employee and that remote-working requests should be granted unless there is a compelling reason why they cannot be.
Department officials who attended the committee said they were addressing many of the concerns raised about the Bill inside and outside the House of the Oireachtas. It is still taking account of 175 submissions, engagement with other government departments and an international review. Varadkar responded: “There’s still a way to go before it becomes law, and I have said throughout that I am open to hearing realistic ways we can strengthen it.”
When will it become law?
The Government is hoping the Bill will become law before the summer recess.