Employees to have right to request remote working

The Government is to legislate to give employees the right to request remote working as part of a National Remote Working Strategy under a permanent framework for after the pandemic ends. 

While the employee will not have an automatic right to remote working, the employer will be required to provide a reasoned justification for rejecting such a request. 

The strategy entitled “Making Remote Work” will also provide for the so-called “right to disconnect”, the construction of remote working hubs, a review of tax treatment, and a possible acceleration of the National Broadband Plan. 

It sets a target for 20% of public sector workers to work remotely – and has pledged to deliver the proposals by the end of this year. 

The Strategy sets out plans to strengthen the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees and to provide the infrastructure to work remotely. 

Legislation will be introduced by the end of September entitling employees to request remote working arrangements. 

While they will not automatically be entitled to remote working arrangements, the employer will be required to give a reasoned response as to why that cannot happen. 

If the employee is not happy with this justification, he/she will able to take a case to the Workplace Relations Commission. 

The Strategy promises a “legally admissible” Code of Practice on the “right to disconnect” from handling phone calls or emails outside the employee’s standard working hours.

The Government will promote “blended” working, allowing people more flexibility to choose when and where they work.

It commits to “significant investment” in remote work hubs, ensuring they located suitable for commuters and close to childcare facilities.

The Tax Strategy Group is to review the treatment of remote working for tax and expenditure purposes before the next budget. 

The Government says home or remote working should be the norm for 20% of the public sector. 

It is also exploring the acceleration of the roll out of the National Broadband Plan to accommodate the technology which enables remote working.

T├ínaiste and Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment  Leo Varadkar acknowledged that the pandemic had exacted a “terrible” toll on life and livelihoods in Ireland – but noted that that the requirement to work from home on public health grounds had demonstrated the viability of home, remote and blended working. 

“We’ve seen that there can be huge benefits, more flexibility, less commuting, more time for family and friends. It’s better for the transport emissions, and for quality of life, but it has to be done right,” Mr Varadkar noted.

“Many people will want to continue on to do at least some remote working after the pandemic, and it’s really important that we protect the rights and entitlements of those workers so that they can still ‘switch off’ from work. That is why we have included the right to disconnect piece.

“We want to put in place the structures which ensure we take advantage of the benefits of remote working and protect against the downsides,” the T├ínaiste said. 

He also cautioned that the move to remote working would require a “cultural shift” in favour of facilitating remote working – but expressed the view that it would make a real difference to people’s working lives. 

The report cites recent research indicating that up to 94% of respondents favoured working from home. 

However, it also notes challenges for employees with some experiencing increased feelings of isolation, loneliness and stress, as well as difficulties in switching off from work, and feeling obliged to work longer hours. 

The Strategy acknowledges that not all roles lend themselves to remote working, and that employers will play a key role in increasing its availability. 

It cites some negative feedback from companies suggesting that it “does not easily support creativity, group dynamics, shared ownership and collegiality” and cautions that if those obstacles cannot be overcome, it could result in long-term impacts on firms’ productivity.

It also expresses concern that remote working could have a negative impact on recruitment, retention, and national employment levels, and notes that while it may revitalise rural towns and villages, it could pose difficulties for cities as workers move away. 

The Strategy undertakes to facilitate increased levels of remote working while mitigating any negative impacts.