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The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar T.D. today published details of a new law which will give employees the right to request remote working, as part of his plans to make better terms and conditions for workers a legacy of the pandemic.

The Right to Request Remote Working Bill 2021 will, for the first time, provide a legal framework around which requesting, approving or refusing a request for remote work can be based.

All workplaces must have a written statement which sets out the company’s Remote Working Policy, specifying the manner in which remote working requests are managed and the conditions which will apply to remote working generally within the organisation.

Where the employer has diligently completed the assessment process and any appeal has been heard, the employee will have to wait a period of 12 months to submit another request, provided they are in the same role. If an employee moves to a new role within the company, they may submit a fresh request.

The new law provides for a time-limit for an employer to return a decision in relation to a request from an employee. The employer can set out their own specific time limit but it must not be more than 12 weeks.

An employee will be eligible to submit a request once they have worked for their employer for a period of six months. However, an employer is free to offer remote work from day one if desired.

There will be a right of appeal to the Workplace Relations Commission where an employer has failed to respond to a request or to provide any reasonable grounds for refusal of a request for remote working and protections for employees from penalisation for having exercised their entitlement to request remote working.

The Tánaiste said:

“We have a real opportunity now to change the norm and learn what we can from the pandemic. This new right is in addition to the right to disconnect, our investment in remote working hubs across the country and our changes to the treatment of home working costs through Budget 2022.”

The General Scheme has been developed following consultation with employer groups, employee representative groups and the public. The General Scheme and the Regulatory Impact Assessment are available at Right to Request Remote Work Bill 2021

As set out in the legislation, an employer may, having given the application due consideration, decline a request for remote working stating the reasonable business grounds for so doing which may include but are not limited to —
The nature of the work not allowing for the work to be done remotely
Cannot reorganise work among existing staff
Potential negative impact on quality
Potential negative impact on performance
Planned structural changes
Burden of additional costs, taking into account the financial and other costs entailed and the scale and financial resources of the employer’s business
Concerns re the protection of business confidentiality or intellectual property
Concerns re the suitability of the proposed workspace on health and safety grounds
Concerns re the suitability of the proposed workspace on data protection grounds
Concerns re the internet connectivity of the proposed remote working location
Inordinate distance between the proposed remote location and on-site location
if the proposed remote working arrangement conflicts with the provisions of an applicable collective agreement
Ongoing or recently concluded formal disciplinary processes.