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25.08.2021

Employer update: Employee right to request remote work moves a step closer

By Paul O’Connor

Earlier this year, the Government announced its intention to introduce a new right for employees to request remote work. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE) then conducted a public consultation process on this proposed new employee right.

The DETE has now published the details from that consultation process with the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar commenting that “We have a real opportunity now to make remote and blended working a much bigger part of normal working life. Introducing a right to request remote working will set out a clear framework to facilitate remote and blended work options, in so far as possible.”

Below, we look at some key findings of the consultation process. With the introduction of an employee right to request remote work a near certainty, the details from the consultation process will give employers an indication on how the new statutory right might look once introduced.

Key points of report

What timeframe should apply for replying to request to work remotely?

With regard to what timeframe should apply when replying to a request to work remotely, 64% of those who engaged in the consultation process proposed ‘one month’ for employers to respond to an employee request. 18% suggesting ‘two months’ which makes it likely that a timeframe of around one month will be introduced.

What length of service, if any, should an employee have before being entitled to make a request for remote work?

For service length requirement, 31% of respondents proposed a ‘one-year’ minimum. 25% proposed no minimum service requirement, 16% proposed ‘six-months’ service, and 12% proposed ‘after probation’.

Given the varying responses, it’s difficult to predict whether or not there will be a minimum service requirement.

Employer confidence in conducting a risk assessment of an employee’s proposed remote workstation

Remote workers are going to need somewhere to work within their homes. Thus, many will establish some sort of workstation. And, as a remote workstation is still considered part of the ‘workplace’, employers have a responsibility to ensure it’s safe.

To the question of confidence in conducting a risk assessment of an employee’s proposed remote workstation, 44% of employers replied that they were “not confident” in carrying one out. Therefore, an employee right to request remote work will be of significant concern to those employers as a risk assessment would be required.

Must employers have a Remote Work Policy in place?

84% of respondents were in favour of a legislative requirement that employers must have a Remote Work Policy. That means it’s highly likely that employers will be required to have such a policy and should start considering this now.

What are reasonable grounds for refusing a remote work request?

38% of all respondents cited the “physical nature of the job” as at least one ground for refusal. The DETE’s report has stated that the grounds for refusal of a request should be included in a Code of Practice.

Article: “Should I allow staff to work remotely?”

Can an alternative hybrid working pattern be offered instead of remote work?

86% of respondents agreed that a hybrid working pattern, where an employee splits their working time between the workplace and home office, would be acceptable.

Should the employer cover the cost of providing all equipment for remote work?

85% of respondents agreed that employers should be expected to bear the cost of equipment required to work remotely. So, while employers may not have to cover the total costs, it’s likely they will be obliged to bear at least some of the financial burden.

The DETE stated “that any further legislation in this area must not go so far as to require the employer to provide a ‘replica’ or ‘identical’ workstation as would be provided should the employee work at the employer’s actual workplace. The focus should be on providing a ‘safe place of work’, and not on providing an ‘identical’ place of work.”

Should an employer have an entitlement to monitor the activity of the employee?

A somewhat contentious area, 84% of respondents nonetheless agreed that monitoring the activity of remote workers should be allowed.

A key question here is what amounts to “reasonable” monitoring of a remote worker. The DETE stated the following: “Employers have a legitimate interest in monitoring employee activity in general, and it is submitted that this particularly extends to individuals who are working remotely and not under direct supervision. This area is already heavily regulated and litigated, both in respect of the Data Protection Acts but also in respect of case law emanating from bodies like the European Court of Human Rights.”

In conclusion

The introduction of a right for employees to request remote work is inevitable and employers should begin the process of creating a Remote Work Policy as soon as possible.

Employers should also factor in that managers may need upskilling on how to manage a team of individuals where some or all of them are working remotely. Furthermore, employers will need to consider how they’ll comply with the statutory obligation of keeping a record of an employee’s working time when they’re working remotely.

Need our help with your HR issues?

If you have questions about managing remote work requests or creating your Remote Work Policy, speak to a Graphite expert now on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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