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Employers will need 'a very good reason' to refuse a request for remote working

A new bill would give people the legal right to request remote working.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Jan 25th 2022, 5:42 PM

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said new legislation would “make it harder” for employers to say no to employees who request remote working. 

Speaking today after the Cabinet approved a bill which would give people the right to request remote working, Varadkar said the law would also provide for an independent appeals mechanism if an employee is refused a request to work remotely. 

Varadkar said employers would “have to give a good reason” to deny a request but that there are ” a lot of jobs” where it is simply not possible to work remotely. 

As a result, he said an “absolute right” to remote working is “not practical” and that anyone claiming this is possible was “pulling your leg”.  

Speaking previously, Varadkar had said that “of course, any worker can request remote working now, but there isn’t a proper legal framework.”

As part of the legislation, a employer must give “due consideration” to the request for remote working but may decline the request on “reasonable business grounds”. 

The legislation outlines 13 potential reasons for an employer to refuse the request. They include:

a) The nature of the work not allowing for the work to be done remotelyb) Cannot reorganise work among existing staffc) Potential negative impact on qualityd) Potential negative impact on performance

e) Planned structural changes

f) Burden of additional costs, taking into account the financial and other costs entailed and the scale and financial resources of the employers business

g) Concerns re the protection of business confidentiality or intellectual property

h) Concerns re the suitability of the proposed workspace on health and safety grounds

i) Concerns re the suitability of the proposed workspace on data protection grounds

j) Concerns re the internet connectivity of the proposed remote working location

k) Inordinate distance between the proposed remote location and on-site location

L) If the proposed remote working arrangement conflicts with the provisions of an applicable collective agreement

m) Ongoing or recently concluded formal disciplinary processes.  

Speaking today, Varadkar said the presumption is that an employer should facilitate remote working but that otherwise a reason is required. 

“We’re not trying to create work for the Workplace Relations Commission, it’s a busy place already, what we’re trying to do is to move the dial, to make it easier for employers to say yes and harder for them to say no,” he said. 

So the presumption if you like, is that the initial answer is yes or there’s a counteroffer. An employer will only say no where there is a  very good reasons to say no. And that reason has to stack up. 

Speaking this morning, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said the government is not dictating terms of individual employment contracts.

Speaking before Cabinet this morning, McGrath said that the bill was a “significant piece of legislation” and that it would help change the culture of work in Ireland.

“We’re not going back to pre-pandemic types of employment. We will see a hybrid into the future,” said McGrath.

However, McGrath said that it was not on the Government to dictate the terms of work contracts by providing a right to remote working, and sensible solutions would be reached between employers and employees.

“I don’t believe it is for Government to step in and dictate the terms and the arrangements of individual contracts of employment.

“I think sensible arrangements will be arrived at between employers and employees in individual cases.

“We will see a very different pattern of work from what we had before.”

Business response

Ibec, the group that represents Irish business, said while it welcomes the broad strokes of the proposed bill, it still has its concerns.

Ibec Director of Employer Relations, Maeve McElwee said: “While we will need to see the detailed Bill once published, we welcome the broad grounds included in the draft Scheme under which businesses may consider applications for remote working.

“Businesses, however, are concerned by the proposed new requirement for all employers, regardless of size or sector, to put in place a formal remote working policy.

“Ibec notes that this draft legislation is just one element of the Government’s broader Remote Working Strategy. It will be important to view this in the context of other Government commitments to invest in necessary infrastructure such as remote working hubs, alignment with childcare facilities, and the National Broadband Plan.”

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Cost of living

Speaking today also about the rising cost of living, Varadkar said it is increasing at a level “that we haven’t seen in a very long time” and that both government and employers have a role in assisting people. 

He noted initiatives such as an increase in the fuel allowance and caps on rents and childcare. 

“The cost of living is rising, we’re seeing inflation at a level that we haven’t seen in a very long time. And that is impacting on people’s household income,” the Tánaiste and Enterprise Minister said.

A lot of people are struggling with those rising bills, particularly energy bills, petrol, diesel electricity. So what we’re doing is action in a number of areas, there are increases in pay, minimum wage just went up by 3%. 

“Most people in most workplaces, not all, but most in most workplaces will get a pay increase this year and that will help. And where employers can afford pay increases, they should do them. And the government certainly has in relation to public sector pay.”

- Additional reporting by Tadgh McNally

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Rónán Duffy

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