The Irish Government has announced an amended version of the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, which it plans to push through the legislative approval process very quickly. The revised draft includes a right to request remote working for certain employees by amending the Parental Leave Act in three ways. It will allow for unpaid leave relating to medical care and domestic violence and create a right to request a flexible working arrangement, including through the use of remote work, for caring purposes.
The Bill provides for the introduction of leave for medical care purposes to allow an employee to provide “significant care or support for a serious medical reason”. This will be reserved for instances of care given to a specified person who is a child, co-habitant, parent, grandparent, sibling or someone who resides with the employee.
This type of leave would be unpaid and subject to a maximum of 5 days in any 12-month period.
The Bill provides for the introduction of leave for employees for reasons related to domestic violence. This category of leave will allow an affected employee to seek medical attention, seek help from victim services organisations, get counselling, relocate, get a court order, take advice or seek assistance from the Gardaí.
Domestic violence leave will be paid at a rate which may be prescribed by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and subject to a maximum of 5 days in any 12 months period.
Right to request flexible working arrangements for caring purposes
The Bill provides for the introduction of a right to request a flexible working arrangement for caring purposes. This is much narrower than a general right to request flexible or remote working arrangements although it does include a request to adjust working hours or patterns including through the use of remote working arrangements. The request may be made by a parent for the purposes of providing care:
- to a child, or
- to a spouse, cohabitant, parent, grandparent, sibling or someone who resides with the employee and is in need of “significant care or support for a serious medical reason”.
The child must be under the age of 12 or, if the child is adopted between the ages of 10 and 12 within two years of the adoption, or under the age of 16 if the child has a disability.
Process and timeline
The Bill sets out the mechanism for an employee to make a request and the evidence to be provided. The employer must deal with the request within 4 weeks, which can be extended in certain circumstances, either approving the request or setting out reasons for its refusal. An approved flexible working arrangement will not commence before the employee has completed 6 months’ service.
Abuse of flexible working arrangements
There is a provision in the Bill which relates to the abuse of flexible working arrangements. This will allow an employer to terminate the arrangements where they have reasonable grounds to believe an employee is not using the arrangement for the purpose for which it was approved.
Other aspects of the Bill
There are also provisions in the Bill which deal with:
- Postponement of the commencement of a proposed flexible work arrangement due to business needs
- Changes to proposed flexible working arrangements, and
- Earlier return to previous working arrangements.
An employee who takes issue with an employer’s failure to (a) approve the request; (b) set out the reasons for refusal, or (c) correctly seek an extension, can make a complaint to the WRC. In response to a relevant complaint, an Adjudicator can direct an employer to comply with its obligations and/or award compensation of up to 20 weeks’ remuneration.
Interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be any clear mechanism for an employee to complain about the reasons for an employer’s refusal to agree to flexible working arrangements.
The press statement and media coverage relating to the announcement of the amended Bill highlighted the fact that the revised draft Bill now includes a right to request remote working. However, this is not a general right to request remote working and is limited to employees who are providing significant care or support to another individual who resides with them.