Calls for a blanket right to work from home ‘not realistic’, says Varadkar

Tánaiste says he is willing to change remote working Bill to make it ‘fit for purpose’

Calls for a blanket right to remote working are "not realistic", Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

However, Mr Varadkar acknowledged there were probably too many reasons for employer to refuse a request for remote working.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment was addressing questions raised on the The Right to Request Remote Working Bill 2021 by Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin in the Dáil on Thursday, which he described as being written with employers in mind and not workers.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said under this Bill a worker had to wait 26 weeks before they could request permission to work remotely and then potentially wait a further 12 months for an answer from the employer, “effectively the length of a pregnancy”.


“The grounds for refusal from the employer are so wide that it effectively makes the Bill meaningless,” he added.

In response, Mr Varadkar said he was willing to change the Bill and make it “fit for purpose”.

“Thirteen reasons might be too many, it’s more than any other country has. It probably is too many and the self-assessment tool might be too complicated. Six months might be too long,” he said.

Feedback on legislation

Mr Varadkar said he was happy to receive feedback on the proposed legislation and take part in further engagement with trade unions.

He said his department was looking at the many issues that have been raised and said he was taking further advice from the Attorney General.

“We’re very keen to enhance rights and entitlements for workers. We also need to ensure a balanced approach that is fair and affordable for employers as well and ensures that services provided to the public are not diminished,” he said.

“Similarly, we must acknowledge that not all occupations, industries or particular roles within an enterprise will be appropriate or suitable for remote working – construction, for example, [or] healthcare. Therefore, calls to introduce a blanket right to remote working are not realistic.”

The Tánaiste said that Ibec had indicated they “did not like” the Bill either at a meeting on Wednesday.

“So while the unions may have been louder on the airwaves in criticising proposals, the employer side of it are equally critical,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said there were good aspects of the Bill including the requirement for an employer to have a remote-working policy while working from home had been in response in a pandemic, and there had been problems.

“The whole issue of data protection, for example, is one [problem] that we had to set aside because there was a public health emergency, but no member of the public likes the idea of their personal data being on somebody’s laptop in a kitchen,” he said.

“These things have to be teased through now and they weren’t [before].”

Mr Ó Ríordáin said remote working had brought a lot of benefits to Irish society, in particular “families who wanted to embrace it”.

He said “it doesn’t suit everybody and not everybody wants it” but added that female participation in the workforce had increased by 3.5 per cent over the course of the pandemic.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times