Government rejects calls to introduce a right to work from home

Proposed Bill would require employers to consider requests but can still refuse approval

Cabinet is set to consider proposals on remote working as hundreds of thousands of workers face a gradual return to the office over the coming weeks. Photograph: iStock

Cabinet is set to consider proposals on remote working as hundreds of thousands of workers face a gradual return to the office over the coming weeks. Photograph: iStock

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The Government has rejected calls to introduce a right to work from home, promising instead to legislate for a right for employees to request home-working.

Opposition politicians have called for a right to work remotely.

However, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar said that while the Government’s proposed Bill would require employers to consider such requests, they would still be able to reject them.

He argued that employers are more likely to grant requests to work from home for fear of being brought to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) – which will be the appeals mechanism in the new law.

Cabinet is set to consider the proposals as hundreds of thousands of workers face a gradual return to the office over the coming weeks.

Unions have said that employers must consult with their members about the return to on-site working and ICTU chief Patricia King warned that some workers will not be able to return for health reasons.

Mr Varadkar said new safety protocols are to be published by the end of the week as he spoke about the Government’s plans to legislate for the right to request remote working.

The proposed Bill will set out a legal framework whereby an employer can either approve or reject a request to work remotely from an employee.

‘Change the culture’

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy has said the Government must give workers a legal right to work remotely, “not merely the right to request flexible working arrangements”.

She said the Government’s plan “does not go far enough” and “The default position should be that flexible working is permissible. It should not be at the whim of employers to accept it or reject it.”

Labour’s employment spokeswoman Senator Maire Sherlock has criticised the Government for not moving quicker to address the issue of people returning to the workplace and called for legislation that guarantees the right to flexible work.

Sinn Féin’s spokeswoman on Enterprise Louise O’Reilly said the planned legislation should be “more robust” and that no reasonable request from an employees should be refused.

She acknowledged that not all requests can be granted because not all work can be done remotely but said: “the emphasis should be on the right to have it rather than the right to ask for it”.

Mr Varadkar said there was a lot of work done with the Attorney General and “Government can only interfere in contracts that employers and employees have signed to a certain extent.”

He also pointed out that remote working isn’t always going to be possible – pointing to education, healthcare, manufacturing and hospitality as examples.

Mr Varadkar said: “What we want to do is get to a position whereby remote working/home working becomes a choice and that employers facilitate that provided the business gets done and provided public services don’t suffer.”

He said that the Government does not want things to go back to the old normal for working arrangements post-pandemic.

“We want to see more remote working, more home working, more hybrid working”.

Mr Varadkar said he believes the legislation can “change the culture” and that employers will embrace it.

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