Working From Home – Employer Considerations
On the 15th January 2021, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar revealed the ‘Making Remote Work’ Ireland’s National Remote Work Strategy. The Strategy’s objective is to ensure that remote working is a permanent feature in the Irish workplace in a way that maximises economic, social and environmental benefits.
COVID-19 certainly accelerated remote working at a rate no one might have predicted, and is it here to stay in some fashion?
Some of the benefits for people remote working include more personal/family flexibility, less commuting, more time for family and friends, less transport emissions, better quality of life, etc.
However, remote working does not suit everyone for various reasons, be they social or environmental factors.
It seems clear from many of the surveys conducted in the past few months that a ‘blended’ solutions of days in the office and days remote working seems to be an optimal solution for many employees.
Right to Request Remote Working
The government now plan to bring legislation forward to provide employees with the right to request remote working. It is expected that this new legislation will be put in place before the end of this year.
Other proposed actions under the ‘Making Remote Work’ include:
1. Issuing a code of practice on the right to disconnect.
2. Investment in remote working hubs close to childcare facilities.
3. Acceleration of the National Broadband plan to be explored.
4. Review treatment of remote working for tax and expenditure in the next budget – October 2021.
5. Government will mandate that Working from Home will be applicable to 20% of public sector employees.
As the employer, you will most likely have updated your employment policies / your employee handbook containing policies covering Remote Working, Health and Safety and Data Privacy over recent months. Also, your Safety Statement to incorporate remote working.
At the moment, remote working for many employers is a provision employers have to adhere to in line with current government health advice. However, it will become a right to request remote working under the remote working government strategy by the end of the year.
As the employer, now is the time for you to consider the following:
- Do some roles require physical presence in the office? Why? You should define these roles and document the reasons. You as the employer, must determine essential roles that require attendance to the office. Physical attendance is only necessary where the duties or services can only be carried out in-person in the office environment. The recent case of the employee who was denied the opportunity to work at home on a rotation basis during COVID-19 may be relevant here
- Do you have employees who are in induction and on probation? Will you be able to consider remote working during this phase of an employee’s employment or does this require special treatment?
- Do your policies and procedures in relation to performance development and engagement need to be revised/amended for those working from home?
- What if there are performance issues? How will you manage these?
- How will the company support career development and progression for employees working from home?
- If there are remote workers and office-based workers, what measures will be put in place to ensure that remote working does not become a barrier to career progression.
Employers are being urged to consider options such as ‘remote first’ policies in the future (post-COVID), where all meetings are either virtual or in-person by prior arrangement to ensure that remote workers are not disadvantaged.
When we are no longer working with Covid-19 restrictions, in-person meetings e.g. quarterly performance reviews, team meetings, critical meetings, etc., would be arranged beforehand with prior agreement.
Obviously, for now, in line with Government advice, employers should be acting within government guidelines so there are no in person meetings at present.
For greater impact, these changes should be led by senior managers within your organisation to embed and sustain remote working.
In the future, you may need to make amendments to the existing contracts or update/issue new contracts of employment to reflect the new remote working scenarios.
Can an Employer Refuse a Request for Remote Working?
While we await the new legislation, an employer can refuse a request if there is good reason, however, refusal to consider requests for remote working may lead to claims under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977-2007. The recent case of the employee who “had to resign” after she was denied remote work during Covid-19 is salient.
Health and Safety Obligations
Employers are required to ensure that a competent person i.e. one with adequate training, experience and knowledge, carries out a risk assessment of the employee’s workstation at home, for those working from home. Key areas of focus are workstation, chair, screen, keyboard/mouse, lighting, electricals, etc. You can check the Health and Safety Authority website for guidelines and templates.
Need advice and support on Remote Working?
If you need advice, support, policies, procedures, guidance on remote working, CollierBroderick are here to help.
We provide employers with support and advice, by phone, email, virtually and on-site, for all employment law and HR matters.