Employers’ group says law on right to request remote working ‘premature’

Oireachtas committee will also hear from unions as part of pre-legislative scrutiny process

A proposed law to provide the right to request remote working is "premature", the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec) will tell TDs and Senators.

The Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise is also set to hear from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) which will say the proposed legislation will be "utterly pointless" unless there are wider grounds for workers to appeal requests that are refused.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar published a draft version of the Right to Request Remote Work Bill 2022 in January, while saying he is open to amendments. Wednesday's committee meeting is part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process.

Ibec’s director of employer relations Maeve McElwee is expected to question whether legislation is the most effective way of promoting the practice of remote working, which became common during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Her opening statement says that offering remote or hybrid working “is increasingly a competitive factor and employers will ensure they take the necessary steps to attract and retain talent”.

She says a statutory right to request remote working at this stage is “premature and may stymie the ability for employers and employees to manage remote working in a creative and dynamic way”.

Ms McElwee suggests: “It would surely be prudent to take some time to experience the ‘post-pandemic’ workplace before seeking to regulate this area by way of legislation.”

She suggests “best practice guidance in the form of a code of practice would provide a much more agile and flexible way to address this whole area”.

She also says: “For some employers, the cost implications of granting a request for remote working may be prohibitive” particularly given the expectation that they will provide the necessary equipment.

‘Absurd situations’

Ibec will also raise concern about the mandatory requirement for all employers, regardless of size or sector, to have a remote work policy and the creation of a criminal offence for failure to do so.

Ms McElwee says it will lead to “absurd situations” where a small cafe would be required to have a remote working policy “despite the fact that remote working could never be offered”.

She will also say that clarity is required on work-related accidents in the home and there needs to be guidance “as the extent of an employer’s obligations and responsibilities determines any potential liability”.

‘Fatally flawed’

Ictu's general secretary Patricia King will reiterate the view of unions that the draft Bill is "stacked in favour of the employer at every turn and is fatally flawed in key parts".

She will highlight how grounds of refusal are not limited to the 13 listed in the draft Bill and say that employers will be able to refuse a request with the “mere assertion that remote working is not suitable to the needs of the business”.

Ms King will also say that appeals can only by made by workers whose requests are denied on procedural grounds, such as an employer failing to respond to a request within the set timeframe.

She says Ictu is “strongly of the view that an appeal to the WRC [Workplace Relations Commission] taking issue with the substantive decision of the employer must be provided. Without this, the proposed legislation is utterly pointless”.

Mr Varadkar has previously said that the final legislation will be clear the grounds for appeal are “not just a procedural right” and that the reasons for an employer’s refusal “will have to stand up”.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

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