Employees will have the legal right to request remote working under new legislation to be introduced in the 3rd quarter of this year by the government.

Mid last month Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar published Ireland’s first National Remote Work Strategy to make remote working a permanent option for life after the pandemic. Under the new plans a legally admissible code of practice on the right to disconnect from work (covering phone calls, emails and switch-off time) will be introduced.

On January 7th this year the WRC ordered an employer pay an operations coordinator €3,712 compensation for her unfair dismissal on May 12th  2020. The office-based worker had no option but to resign from her job during the first Covid-19 lockdown after her employer rejected her plea to work remotely from home, according to the Workplace Relations Commission.

In the case, the woman, who was represented by SIPTU, worked for the facilities management company at a university where there are 3,200 rooms to accommodate students. In its findings, the WRC found that the requirement by the employer that the operations coordinator attend the workplace without adequate consideration of the elimination of risk posed by Covid-19 “amounts to repudiation of contract”.

This decision will be of interest to employers who have been dealing with requests for remote working since the beginning of the pandemic. It is important to carefully navigate not only the final outcomes of these requests, but also how they are managed.

The Tánaiste said that as things stand, employees “in theory” have the right to request working from home already, but said it is not the same as a legal right to request. People will want to continue on to do at least some remote working after the pandemic, saying that it’s really important that government protect the rights and entitlements of those workers so that they can still ‘switch off’ from work. “If somebody has the right to request remote working, the onus is on the employer to either say yes or explain why not and they would have to give reasons,” he said, adding that these reasons could be challenged in the Workplace Relations Commission.

NB – This is a guide for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have an issue requiring legal advice, please contact any of the team at Nolan Farrell & Goff LLP, whose numbers can be found on our website, www.nfg.ie