Work From Home law not fit for workers

The Tanaiste published his new legislation on Tuesday.

The Government’s new work from home legislation has been subject to ridicule from online observers and concern by trade unions.

On Tuesday the Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, published details of a new law to give employees the right to request remote working.

“This new law will give every employee the right to request remote working from their employer. Employers will be required to provide reasonable grounds for refusing to facilitate an employees’ request. These grounds are set out in the legislation and we will develop Codes of Practice to provide guidance to help employers implement the new law.”

Employees can submit a request once they have worked for their employer for a period of six months. Employers have 12 weeks to respond, with the legislation setting out thirteen “reasonable grounds” which can be used to decline a request, including the burden of additional costs, suitability of the proposed workspace, and the business not being able to reorganise work among existing staff.

“It’s actually even weaker than it seems,” explained Alan Eustace of Trinity College Dublin School of Law on Twitter. He highlighted that while the legislation makes it “very burdensome” for employees to make a request, it’s easy for employers to refuse. Eustace also said that enforcement is “frankly pathetic”, pointing that appeals can only be made on procedural grounds.

Commenting on the publication, Patricia King, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said that the law needed to balance the needs of employers and employees:

“The litmus test for this legislation is whether workers have confidence that it compels employers to be fair, reasonable, and consistent in their considerations. The 13 sweeping and subjective criteria published today do not strike a balance between employer and employee needs.

“They duplicate and extend on the eight business reasons for refusing a request contained in current UK legislation, reasons which have been found to allow employers to retain and use their unfettered ability to turn down requests for remote working and which are now subject to review.” 

The public service union Fórsa welcomed the decision to legislate for a right to request remote working but echoed ICTU’s call for reasonable, fair and transparent criteria for deciding which roles are suitable for remote working.

The union’s general secretary, Kevin Callinan, said: “Employers must not have the option of simply turning down requests on spurious or vague grounds.”