Views from members of the public and stakeholder groups on the right to request remote work have been published by the Government.
Ireland’s first National Remote Work Strategy was published earlier this year with the objective of making remote and blended working a bigger part of life after the pandemic.
An important commitment in the Strategy is to introduce a new law giving workers the right to request to remote work. This includes guidance for employers and workers and a Remote Working Checklist.
Currently in Ireland, all employees can ask their employers for the right to work remotely, but there is no legal framework around which a request can be made and how it should be dealt with by the employer. This new law will set out clearly how these requests should be facilitated as far as possible.
Welcoming the announcement, Minister of State, Anne Rabbitte said:
The pandemic pushed companies and consumers to a rapidly adopt new behaviours that are likely to stick, changing the trajectory of three groups of trends. We consequently see sharp discontinuity between their impact on labor markets before and after the pandemic. Perhaps the most obvious impact of COVID-19 on the labour force is the dramatic increase in employees working remotely. To determine how extensively remote work might persist after the pandemic, McKinsey analysed its potential across more than 2,000 tasks used in some 800 occupations in the eight focus countries.
Considering only remote work that can be done without a loss of productivity, they found that about 20 to 25 percent of the workforces in advanced economies could work from home between three and five days a week. This represents four to five times more remote work than before the pandemic and could prompt a large change in the geography of work, as individuals and companies shift out of large cities into suburbs and smaller towns. They found that some work that technically can be done remotely is best done in person. Negotiations, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, providing sensitive feedback, and onboarding new employees are examples of activities that may lose some effectiveness when done remotely.
And she continued:
The scale of workforce transitions set off by COVID-19’s influence on labour trends increases the urgency for both businesses and policymakers to take steps to support additional training and education programs for workers. Companies and governments exhibited extraordinary flexibility and adaptability in responding to the pandemic with purpose and innovation that they might also harness to retool the workforce in ways that point to a brighter future of work.
Policymakers could support businesses by expanding and enhancing the digital infrastructure, scaling up the excellent training provided by Grow Remote.
Minister Rabbitte concluded:
Governments must also consider extending benefits and protections to independent workers and to workers working to build their skills and knowledge mid-career.
The reward of such efforts would be a more resilient, more talented, and better-paid workforce—and a more robust and equitable society.
The Tánaiste said:
We have a real opportunity now to make remote and blended working a much bigger part of normal working life. Introducing a right to request remote working will set out a clear framework to facilitate remote and blended work options, in so far as possible. It will ensure that when an employer declines a request, there are stated reasons for doing so and conversations with workers are taking place in a structured way. We recognise that remote working won’t work for everyone or for every organisation, so the Government will take a balanced approach with the new legislation.
A total of 175 submissions were received, most of which came from individual workers. The report published today summarises the key points of the views received. The questions asked covered topics such as:
- Timeframe for replying to requests to work remotely
- The length of service, if any, an employee should have before being entitled to work remotely
- Health and Safety & Equipment required for remote working
- Reasonable grounds of refusal of a request to work remotely
- How to manage changes in any arrangement agreed between workers and employer
The Tánaiste continued:
Because of the pandemic, a lot of people are required to work from home. After the pandemic, people should have a choice, so long as the work gets done and business and service needs are met. That’s the principle I want to apply.
The intention is to introduce a mechanism for employees to request remote working that is fair to workers but does not place an undue burden on employers. This new legislation will be a priority in the new Dáil term. We will also continue to provide up to date advice, guidance and information on all aspects of remote working for workers and employers.
Along with engagement from trade unions and industry representatives, submissions were also received from businesses, political parties and individual workers. The summary report on submissions on a Right to Request Remote Work can be found at Report on the submissions received from the Consultation on Right to Request Remote Working.
The Government, via the National Remote Working Strategy, has committed over the course of this year to:
- legislate to provide employees the right to request remote working
- introduce a legally admissible code of practice on the right to disconnect from work – covering phone calls, emails and switch-off time. This was published in April 2021.
- invest in remote work hubs, ensuring they are in locations that suit commuters and are close to childcare facilities
- explore the acceleration of the National Broadband Plan
- review the treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenditure in the next Budget
- lead by example by mandating that home and remote working should be the norm for 20% of public sector employees.