We take a look at two recent developments in employment law. They look at purported new employee protections when faced with technological and work practice pressures, specifically the right to disconnect and remote working requests.
The way we work has changed radically over the past year, with the increased need for remote and flexible working arrangements in conjunction with the ever-evolving role of technology, encouraging a seemingly relentless work environment. The changing nature of the workplace has benefitted both employers and employees but we must recognise that new challenges have arisen. As always the legal landscape is attempting to keep pace with evolving work practices including through improved employee rights. This article guides you through the recent legal developments.
The Right to Disconnect
The Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Right to Disconnect came into effect on the 1st April 2021. The purpose of the Code, which was developed by the WRC under the Workplace Relations Act 2015 (the ‘Act’), is to provide employers, employees and their representatives with practical guidance on the right to disconnect. The right to disconnect refers to an employee’s right to be able to disengage from work and work-related electronic communications outside of normal working hours (save for occasional times when business and operational needs necessitate that communications are sent and received outside of employee’s normal working hours).
Employees can raise an issue with an employer informally, and, if not resolved, thereafter under an organisation’s grievance procedure. If problems or issues continue, employees have the right to raise the matter with the WRC in relation to the relevant legislation governing the employees’ rights and obligations under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018 and/or the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 – 2014. While failure to follow the code is not an offence, section 20(9) of the Act provides that a code shall be admissible in evidence for relevant questions to be determined in any proceedings before a Court, the Labour Court or the WRC.
Employers are advised to adopt a new, or review their existing, Right to Disconnect Policy. The policy should take account of business and operational needs, health and safety matters and the employee’s terms and conditions of employment in particular as they relate to statutory obligations. A copy of the Code can be found here.
Right to Request Remote Working
In Ireland there is currently no legal framework around which a request to work remotely can be made by an employee nor how these requests should be facilitated by the employer. The Government intends to introduce legislation by September 2021 to provide a framework for requesting, approving or refusing requests to work remotely. It is hoped that the legislation will provide legal clarity for employers on what their obligations are for dealing with requests to work remotely. Many employers, such as global technology companies, have already made firm commitments to employees on what their expectations can be in this respect moving out of Covid-19 restrictions. For many organisations facilitating remote working is not a simple option outside of emergency public health restrictions and situations. Those employers will need to carefully review their policies and procedures when the legislation is enacted.
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