Remote working bill criticised as a ‘lost opportunity’ – The Irish Times

Proposed remote working legislation will give an employer the right to say no to employees “because I say so”, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Members of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment were critical of the heads of a bill which they claimed is vague and weighted in favour of employers.

The committee is currently conducting pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill which the Government has deemed to be a priority and aims to pass by the summer recess.

Sinn Féin employment spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said the heads of the bill if enacted would only give employees the “right to be in a bad mood about not having their request granted” if they request remote working.

She pointed out that the bill as envisaged will only only allow an employee to appeal a decision to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) if an employer does not tell them why they are being refused.

She predicted it would allow employers to refuse grounds for remote working “because I (the employer) say so” .

Ms O’Reilly compared it to a mother telling her child that she does not have to give a reason for refusing something.

She suggested the legislation is “out of kilter and balanced in favour of the employer. There is nobody who believes that this is going to deliver for people.”

The proposed legislation is framed in negative terms with 13 reasons given why employers will be allowed to not grant remote working. She suggested that the legislation should be framed positively and remote working should be granted “to the greatest extent possible”.

Fianna Fáil’s Senator Ollie Crowe said the bill should be a “good news story” but it has too many flaws. Even as an employer himself, he believed the bill was “too heavily stacked against employees”.

He added: “Companies naturally need to monitor their employees, but this is over the top in my view.”

‘No balance’

Labour employment spokeswoman Senator Marie Sherlock said the bill was not the “landmark legislation” that the Government claimed it would be, and could end up being a “lost opportunity”.

She suggested there was “no balance between the employer and the employee” in the bill heads.

A new employee would have to wait 26 weeks before they can even request permission to work remotely, and they would have an “inordinate” wait of 12 weeks before they can get an answer.

“The grounds are so wide as to make it meaningless and there is no proper right to appeal a refusal,” she said.

“It is rigid, conservative and very much a ‘right to request’ legislation.”

She questioned how the Department could reconcile the ambition in the Government’s Remote Working Strategy launched last year and the proposed bill.

In response, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment assistant secretary Dermot Mulligan said the legislation was landmark in the sense that it was the first time that an employee will be given the right to request home working.

He said the right balance was “not an easy thing to arrive at” and the Department was still working through the legal and policy issues to find that appropriate balance.

He explained the idea was to create a “floor” of a minimum right for employees and the legislation will not impede any employer from offering any remote working arrangements that suits. “We want to promote remote working generally,” he said.

Senator Sherlock asked the Department officials why distance from the office was a grounds for refusal in the remote working scenario. An employee can refuse if he or she thinks there is an inordinate distance between the proposed remote working location and on-site location.

Department official Wendy Gray said those grounds for refusal were included not for employees living in Ireland, but those living “three or four hours away plane ride away”.

She said it would give employers the option of considering whether or not its employees should be allowed to work from another country.

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