The Government has published its first National Remote Work Strategy (the Strategy). Among the commitments contained in the Strategy is planned legislation giving employees the right to request remote working. The Strategy also provides for the introduction of a legally admissible Code of Practice on the right to disconnect from work.
The Strategy’s other main actions include:
- A commitment to construct more remote working hubs
- Reviewing the treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenditure in the next Budget, and
- A possible acceleration of the National Broadband Plan
The move towards more permanent remote working arrangements follows research carried out in October 2020 which found that 94% of participants would like to work remotely after the pandemic. The Strategy also states that it will mandate public sector employers, colleges, and other public bodies to move to 20% home and remote working in 2021.
The Strategy has an ambitious timeline and there are various actions set out that aim to be completed by the end of December 2021.
Main Components of the Strategy?
Right to request remote working
It is planned that legislation will be introduced by September 2021 allowing employees to request the right to work remotely. The legislation will provide a framework for handling these requests. Employers are not obliged to agree to all requests but it is likely that they will have to provide objective reasons justifying any refusals. Recent commentary indicates that employees will have the right to appeal to the Workplace Relations Commission where they believe the employer’s refusal to be unreasonable. Currently, there is no obstacle to employees requesting to work from home. However, the planned legislation will provide a framework which aims to strengthen an employee’s right to request long term remote working.
Right to disconnect
In Ireland, restrictions on an employee’s working time are already governed by the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. However, the Strategy promises a "legally admissible" Code of Practice on an employee’s "right to disconnect" from responding to phone calls or emails outside their standard working hours. While it is envisaged that adhering to the Code will not be a strict legal requirement, in the event of complaints in terms of working hours, the Workplace Relations Commission will certainly consider the provisions of the Code when dealing with a complaint. The Code of Practice is expected to be introduced in the first quarter of 2021.
The Strategy commits to "significant investment" in remote work hubs in geographic locations which ensure that they are located suitably for commuters and close to childcare facilities.
The Tax Strategy Group will review the treatment of remote working for tax and expenditure purposes before the next budget.
National Broadband Plan
The Strategy is also exploring the acceleration of the roll out of the National Broadband Plan to accommodate the technology which enables remote working.
What Should Employers do Now?
The Strategy indicated that the Government will be moving forward with the proposals in the immediate future. In light of this, employers should assess their current business model and working arrangements for any roles which are suitable for long term remote working. Where roles are identified which are not suitable for remote working, employers should consider how they will deal with remote working requests from employees in these roles as any refusals will need to be justified on an objective basis. The Strategy recommends that employers implement a remote work policy that sets out clear criteria for requesting remote work, with a review or appeal process built in for employees who have their requests refused.
Employers should also review their practice for recording their employees’ working time and assess their policy in terms of compliance with the maximum 48 hour working week.
The Strategy is a welcome development for employees and employers alike, acknowledging the huge cultural shift that has occurred in a relatively short timeframe as a result of the pandemic. The Strategy aims to facilitate and encourage long term remote working and provide the infrastructure to do so. The progress of the Strategy will be monitored with interest for 2021.