The Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023 was signed into law on 4 April 2023. The overall aim of the Act is to introduce new rights for employees in order to support a better balance of work life, family life and caring responsibilities.
Several of its key provisions including the right to request flexible and remote working arrangements, have yet to be commenced but we have highlighted the key aspect of some of the rights coming shortly down the tracks.
The first of the provisions designed to improve employees’ work-life balance is the right to request a ‘flexible working arrangement’ for caring purposes. Such an arrangement is defined as a ‘working arrangement where an employee’s working hours or patterns are adjusted, including through the use of remote working arrangements, flexible working schedules or reduced working hours’. The right to request a flexible working arrangement is currently limited under the Act to parents providing care to a child up to the age of 12 or employees with caring responsibilities in respect of persons specified under the Act including – a spouse or civil partner, a cohabitant, a parent or grandparent, a sibling, and person residing in the same household as the employee. Such persons must be in need of significant care or support for a serious medical condition. It is understood that a review will take place after two years to analyse whether the right to request flexible working arrangements can be extended beyond this scope to all employees.
In order to apply for a flexible working arrangement, employees must have completed 6 months continuous employment with their employer. Requests for a flexible working arrangement must be:
- Made in writing and signed by the employee;
- Specify the form of flexible working arrangement required, the date of commencement and duration; and
- Be submitted to the employer no later than 8 weeks before the commencement of the proposed arrangement.
It is important to note that employers are under an obligation to consider such requests and must approve or refuse the request no later than 4 weeks after receipt. This can be extended to 8 weeks where the employer is having difficulty assessing the viability of the request. Where a request has been refused, the employer must provide reasons for the refusal to the employee.
In circumstances where the employer breaches its obligations to process an employee’s flexible working request in accordance with the Act, the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) can award compensation of up to 20 weeks’ remuneration.
In a further attempt to support employees’ work/life balance, the Act also provides employees with the right to request a remote working arrangement. It is important to note that the Act does not provide an automatic right to work remotely, but to make a request to their employer which will be considered and responded to within a specified period. In contrast to the provisions surrounding flexible working, there is no service requirement for making a request, however, an approved remote working arrangement cannot commence until an employee has completed 6 months continuous service. Employees must specify the details of the proposed arrangement in their request to the employer, including the reasons for the request and the details of the proposed remote working location.
We are currently awaiting the publication of a Code of Practice from the WRC which will provide further guidance as to the considerations to be taken into account in relation to remote working. However, the Act does provide that employers are obliged to consider the request having regard to both the employer’s needs and the employee’s needs, and also the requirements of the Code of Practice. Similar to the provisions on flexible working, employers must approve or refuse the request within 4 weeks of receipt, which can be extended to 8 weeks where the employer is having difficulty assessing the viability of the request.
The Act also provides employers with the right to terminate the remote working arrangement in certain circumstances. These include where the arrangement is having a substantial adverse effect on the operation of their business, profession, or occupation or where the employer has reasonable grounds to believe the arrangement is being abused by the employee.
Employees can make a claim to the WRC where they are of the view that their employer is not fulfilling their obligations under the Act in relation to the processing of the request. The WRC may make an award of compensation of up to 4 weeks’ remuneration.
Leave for Medical Care Purposes:
The Act aims to further support employees’ work/life balance by providing a new form of leave for medical care purposes. Employees are entitled to 5 days unpaid leave in a 12-month period for the purposes of providing personal care or support to a person specified in the Act. Such persons include a child, spouse or civil partner, a cohabitant, a parent or grandparent, a sibling, and person residing in the same household as the employee. Such persons must require significant care or support for a serious medical reason. Under the Act, employers are entitled to request information from the employee as to their relationship with the person, the nature of the personal care or support required and evidence relating to the need of the person for the significant care or support concerned such as a medical certificate. It is important to note that there is no service requirement to avail of this leave and this section of the Act has commenced as of 3 July 2023.
The 2023 Act certainly represents a significant step towards supporting Irish employees in improving their work/life balance. For employers, it will be important to review internal policies to ensure they are in compliance with the Act. It is hoped the Code of Practice will provide practical guidance for both employers and employees on the handling of flexible and remote working requests.
The team at CC Solicitors are experienced specialist employment law advisers. If you need assistance in relation to your flexible or remote working policies, or indeed how you can improve work/life balance within your organisation, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team.