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Making Remote Work: National Remote Work Strategy

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The Government announced that they will introduce legislation by the end of September 2021 entitling employees to request their employers to allow them to work remotely.

On Friday 15th of January, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, published the National Remote Work Strategy. This strategy aims to make remote working a permanent option for employees under a permanent framework which will continue after the pandemic ends.

Mr. Varadkar acknowledged that the pandemic had demonstrated the viability of home, remote and blended working, saying “We’ve seen that there can be huge benefits, more flexibility, less commuting, more time for family and friends. It’s better for the transport emissions, and for quality of life, but it has to be done right,”. He cautioned that the move to remote working would require a “cultural shift” to facilitate remote working but expressed the view that it would make a real difference to people’s working lives.

Remote working is set to become the norm for 20% of public sector jobs under the plan.

Code of practice

The national strategy ‘Making Remote Work’ intends to introduce a new legally admissible code of practice which provides for the “right to disconnect” from phone calls, emails or other work-related messages during non-work hours. The Government intends to accelerate the National Broadband Plan and to provide significant investment for the construction of remote working hubs to facilitate employees to work locally which would significantly increase regional employment and lower carbon emissions.

Currently, an employee can receive €3.20 per day from their employer while working at home to help cover the cost of electricity, internet and other utilities used. However, the Department of Finance are going to review the tax and expenditure arrangements before the next budget for remote working for employers and employees.

Remote work requests

The strategy aims to strengthen the rights and responsibilities and to provide the infrastructure to work remotely. The strategy does not automatically give employees a right to work remotely, it does however require employers to give qualified justifications for preventing them from doing so. If an employee does not accept their employer’s justification, they will be able to take a case to the Workplace Relations Commission.

Introducing legislation on this topic will provide employees with a framework around which a remote working request could be based and in addition will deliver clarity to employers on best practice when dealing with remote working requests.

All these actions are said to be completed over the course of 2021. Mr. Varadkar has advised that an implementation group will soon be set up and will meet every four months to monitor the progress of the plan.

About the author: Marc Fitzgibbon, Senior Partner and Head of Employment.