Ireland unveiled a new bill this week that attempts to formalise when workers should have the right to work from home.
The legislation has been criticised by unions and employment lawyers for the proposed list of 13 conditions that an employer can consider before refusing a remote working request.
The draft legislation gives an employee the right to apply for remote work and obliges the employer to reply within 12 weeks.
The changing world of work
Remote working has become commonplace across Europe as the COVID-19 pandemic challenged the office culture that had for so long dominated many sectors.
Now countries are grappling with how to create a legal framework to formalise the changes in work habits that have occurred during the last two years.
The Irish government’s bill has drawn praise for laying out how workers can gain the right to remote work by law, but there has also been strong criticism from unions and employment lawyers over conditions they believe are weighted in employers’ favour.
"Up until now, remote and home working has been imposed on a lot of people due to the public health restrictions. Now that they have been lifted, I want it to be a choice,” Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Tánaiste (deputy prime minister), said.
"I want workers to be able to work from home or remotely or hybrid if they want to. So long as the business gets done and services are provided, employers should facilitate it,” he added.
"Employers will be required to provide reasonable grounds for refusing to facilitate an employee's request. These grounds are set out in the legislation and we will develop Codes of Practice to provide guidance to help employers implement the new law.
"It will give employers and workers legal clarity on remote working, which became the default for many during the pandemic.
"The world of work has changed and I know many would like to retain some amount of remote working once COVID is behind us".
Criticism of the Right to Request Remote Work Bill 2021
“The 13 grounds for refusing a request to work remotely are sweeping and stacked in favour [of] employers,” Laura Bambrick, head of social policy and employment affairs at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions said on Twitter.
“The appeal mechanism is fundamentally flawed, severely limited and out of line with existing legislation,” she added.
“Workers can’t appeal the reasons for turning down their request, just how the request/ refusal was handled”.
In response to the criticisms, Varadkar indicated that he is open to making changes to the bill and said in an interview with RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne that there would be further engagement with unions and employers, and that the government hoped to have the legislation enacted by the summer.
The 13 reasons that employers can turn down a request to remote work are:
- The nature of the work not allowing for the work to be done remotely
- Cannot reorganise work among existing staff
- Potential negative impact on quality of business product or service
- Potential negative impact on performance of employee or other employees
- Burden of additional costs, taking into account the financial and other costs entailed and the scale and financial resources of the employer’s business
- Concerns for the protection of business confidentiality or intellectual property
- Concerns for the suitability of the proposed workspace on health and safety grounds
- Concerns for the suitability of the proposed workspace on data protection grounds
- Concerns for the internet connectivity of the proposed remote working location.
- Concerns for the commute between the proposed remote working location and employer’s onsite location
- The proposed remote working arrangement conflicts with the provisions of an applicable collective agreement
- Employee is the subject of ongoing or recently concluded formal disciplinary process