Remote work bill slammed as ‘missed opportunity’

Proposed remote work legislation will give an employer the right to say no to an employee’s request to work from home “because I say so”, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Members of the Joint Business, Trade and Employment Committee have criticized those responsible for the Right to Request Remote Work Bill 2021, which they say is vague and pro-employers.

The committee is currently carrying out a pre-legislative review of the bill, which the government has deemed a priority and is seeking to pass before the Oireachtas summer recess.

Sinn Féin employment spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly TD said those responsible for the bill, if passed, would only give employees “the right to be in a bad mood not to not have their request accepted” if they request remote work.

She said the current proposal would only allow an employee to appeal a decision to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) if an employer does not tell them why they are being refused. She predicted it would allow employers to refuse remote work grounds “because I (the employer) say so”.

Ms O’Reilly compared it to a mother telling her child she doesn’t have to give a reason for refusing something.

She suggested that the legislation is “out of kilter and balanced in favor of the employer. There is no one who believes this is going to benefit people.

The Dublin Fingal TD said the proposed legislation was framed in negative terms with 13 reasons given why employers can refuse to approve a request for remote work. She suggested that it be framed positively and that remote work be granted “wherever possible”.

Fianna Fáil Senator Ollie Crowe said the bill should be “good news”, but currently has too many flaws. Even as an employer himself, he said he thought it was “too heavily stacked against employees”.

“Companies naturally need to monitor their employees, but that’s overkill in my view,” he said.

“No Balance”

Labor employment spokeswoman Senator Marie Sherlock said the bill was not the ‘landmark legislation’ the government claimed it would be, and could end up being a ‘lost opportunity’ “. She said a new employee would have to wait 26 weeks before they could apply for permission to work remotely, and would then have an “excessive” 12-week wait before getting a response.

“The grounds are so broad they don’t make sense and there is no right to appeal a denial,” she said. “This is tough, conservative legislation and very close to the ‘right to ask’.”

In response, the Enterprise Department’s deputy general secretary, Dermot Mulligan, said the legislation was historic in that it was the first time an employee would have the right to request remote working.

He said the right balance was ‘not an easy thing to achieve’ and the department was still working through legal and policy issues to find an appropriate balance.

Mr Mulligan said the idea was to create a “floor” of minimum entitlement for employees and that the legislation will not prevent any employer from offering suitable remote working arrangements.

“We want to promote remote work in general,” he said.

Ms. Sherlock asked department officials why office distance was a denial in the remote work scenario. An employee may decline if they believe there is an excessive distance between the proposed remote work location and the on-site location.

Department head Wendy Gray said these refusal grounds were not included for employees living in Ireland, but rather for those living “three or four hours away by plane”. She said it would give employers the ability to determine whether or not their employees should be allowed to work from abroad.

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