Grounds for denying remote working to staff may be reduced

Government examining how best to bolster employees’ right of appeal in draft law

Employers could have fewer grounds to refuse requests for remote working under changes being considered for a draft law being developed by the Government.

Politicians will be told on Wednesday that the Department of Enterprise is examining how best to strengthen the right of appeal in the proposed legislation.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar published a draft version of the Right to Request Remote Work Bill 2022 in January.

The Bill is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny by the Oireachtas Enterprise Committee.

Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) general secretary Patricia King previously told the committee that the draft law is "stacked in favour of the employer at every turn".

She highlighted how the grounds of refusal are not limited to the 13 listed in the draft Bill.

Senior Department of Enterprise official assistant secretary Dermot Mulligan will tell TDs and Senators on Wednesday that Mr Varadkar has said on numerous occasions that "We have a 'listening ear' on the draft legislation and are open to changes to it."

Remote working ‘reality’

He is expected to tell a meeting of the enterprise committee that the department is taking on board feedback from stakeholders and is “currently examining how best to strengthen the redress provisions and the right of appeal in the draft legislation. In addition, we are considering a reduction of the enumerated grounds for refusal.”

In his opening statement, Mr Mulligan will say that the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in remote working “becoming a reality for many of us” and that “progress made towards a more flexible and balanced approach to our working lives should not be lost”.

He says there is a commitment from Mr Varadkar and the department “to ensuring that this legislation is as clear and balanced as possible, in order to positively assist both workers and employers to adopt remote working practices”.

Mr Mulligan also says not all occupations or industries will be appropriate or suitable for remote working and it is not practical to introduce an automatic legal right to remote work.

‘Legal right’

He will respond to issues raised by the Ictu and employers’ group Ibec at a previous committee meeting and say “The intention of this legislation is to act as a floor-level protection to ensure that all workers . . . have the legal right to formally request remote or hybrid working and for their employer to be obliged to consider that request and respond to it.”

He adds: “As the Tánaiste has said on several occasions – so long as the business gets done and services are provided – employers should facilitate remote working where they can.”

Separately, the Department of Enterprise will on Wednesday publish research showing that people who work remotely could make savings of more than €300 per year through reduced transport costs.

Increases in heating and electricity costs of about €109 are offset by the estimated €413 in savings from reduced commuting for the average remote worker – a potential saving of €304.

The internal Government research is also expected to show “significant” reductions in carbon emissions due to decreased commuting.

The paper estimates that remote working has the potential to save 164,407 tonnes of CO2 per year.