Proposed remote work legislation lacks ‘teeth’, say unions and labor lawyers

THE GOVERNMENT’S BILL on the right of employees to request remote work lacks detail, say unions and labor lawyers.

Speaking yesterday after the Cabinet approved a bill that would give people the right to request remote work, Tánaiste and Business Minister Leo Varadkar said employers “should give a good reason” for refusing a application under the new framework.

The heads of the bill, released yesterday, also provide an appeal mechanism if an employee is denied a remote work request.

But unions have taken aim at the bill, which they say favors business owners over workers.

Speaking on the Today program with Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio 1 today, Patricia King, general secretary of the Irish Trades Union Congress, said the 13 reasons employers can refuse a claim under the legislation are “fairly stacked in the interests of the employer”.

Here are some of the reasons an employer may deny a request:

  • If the nature of the work does not allow remote work;
  • Whether there is an additional cost burden, given the scale and financial resources of the business;
  • If the company is planning structural changes;
  • If there are any concerns regarding the protection of business confidentiality or intellectual property;
  • If there are concerns about the suitability of the proposed workspace for health and safety reasons;
  • If there is an excessive distance between the proposed remote location and the on-site location.

King said the exemption for “structural changes” is particularly unfair to workers.

She said, “How would a worker know what the planned restructuring is?

“So an employer can receive your request and write back to you, ‘No, we can’t give you that because we’ve planned a restructuring’.”

“These pieces need to be redesigned, they need to be reformed and reworked,” she said.

“They are neither fair nor reasonable by any standard.”

Labor lawyers say workers and business owners will have their own questions about the proposed framework.

Talk to The newspaper this afternoon, barrister Karen Killalea said ‘this is light weight legislation’ which is helpful for employers trying to ‘step back’ now that workers are being allowed back into their offices.

The head of the employment team at Maples law firm said: “It certainly provides a framework for a conversation, but it doesn’t really change the dial when it comes to employers who now have to move on to agreements. permanent remote work.”

Overall, Killalea said, there is a “lack of bite” to the framework as it currently stands.

She explained: “I fully expected [the framework] be a little tougher on employers by ensuring that the decision to deny a remote work request was correct and not a fictitious decision.

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The bill obliges employers to facilitate an internal appeal against any decision to refuse remote work.

Workers can then file a complaint with the Workplace Relations Commission, but only for “technical” reasons, Killalea said, “such as if the response is late or if it does not contain the particular information” about the grounds for refusal.

“But that doesn’t actually allow an employee to say, ‘Wait a second. It was just a grossly unfair decision.

While overall the draft framework doesn’t require business owners to make any particularly onerous changes, there are one or two “curious” aspects for business owners, Killalea said.

“It’s a bit strange that the only teeth that are really flashed in this legislation is that it’s potentially a criminal offense not to have a remote work policy,” she explained.

“A lot of small businesses that are on-site – like hairdressers, beauty salons, cafes, restaurants, wherever you have customer contact – are going to think that’s a bit crazy.”

However, Killalea said “it’s still very early days” and some of those issues could be ironed out before the legislation is finalized.

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