Employers would have fewer reasons to refuse an employee’s request to work from home under an overhaul of legislation currently being worked on by Government officials.

An earlier version of the legislation, which was approved by the Cabinet at the start of the year, would have seen employers given the ability to refuse an employee’s request to work remotely on at least 13 different grounds.

Among them were that the nature of the work does not allow for the work to be done remotely; that the work cannot be reorganised among existing staff; or that working remotely could have a potential negative impact on either work quality or performance.

The revised plans, designed to reflect changes to work patterns that occurred at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, were criticised by opposition parties and trade unions for being too restrictive on workers and too generous to employers.

Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment were also unhappy with the heads of the Right to Request Remote Working Bill 2021, which they claimed were vague and weighted in favour of employers.

Remote working

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Enterprise, indicated last week that the legislation was being significantly reworked. While final agreement has not yet been reached on the proposed changes, a senior source said that one element of the overhaul would see employers given fewer reasons to refuse a request.

A source said that, under revised legislation, there would also be a more meaningful appeal mechanism to the Workplace Relations Commission should an employer still refuse the request without a good cause.

The source said that the message from Government would be that “remote or hybrid working should be facilitated so long as it does not adversely affect the performance of the business or the services it provides to the public”.

Mr Varadkar last week signalled that he was considering changes to the Bill and denied that the Coalition was dragging its feet on finalising the legislation.

Heads of Bill

The Fine Gael leader said that of five areas where he is seeking to reform workers’ rights, remote working was the “most complicated” and the one “we found it hardest to get consensus on”.

The original outline of the legislation – known as the heads of the Bill – was published in January, but Mr Varadkar said on Thursday that this draft would be revised as “what we’re planning on doing departs quite far from the original heads”.

Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary Patricia King previously told the Oireachtas enterprise committee that the draft law was “stacked in favour of the employer at every turn”.Earlier this summer, the committee published a report on its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, noting that much of the public commentary on the Bill “has not been positive”.

Mr Varadkar said he was keen to have the legislation published before December 15th, the date when he is due to return to the Taoiseach’s office.

The original intention had been to have the legislation agreed before the summer recess and enacted soon afterwards.