Important New Legislation on Work-Life Balance: what do employers need to know?

The legislation provides for the introduction of new rights for employees to support a better balance of family life, work life and caring responsibilities. It also seeks to support those who are victims of domestic violence through the introduction of a statutory paid leave entitlement.

As of 30 March 2023, the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022 has passed through all stages of the Oireachtas although some procedural steps remain before it is enacted.  The Minister has stated that the Bill “represents a significant advance in workers’ rights in Ireland. It recognises the importance of family life and an improved quality of life for all workers, by supporting employees to achieve a better balance between their home lives and work lives.”

The Bill will soon make five important changes to employment legislation.

Right to request remote work (encompassing the former Right to Request Remote Work Bill)

In January 2022, the general scheme of the Right to Request Remote Working Bill 2022 was published and was the subject of extensive commentary in the general media.  It was proposed that employers would be given a broad discretion to refuse a request to work remotely and the scheme included a non-exhaustive list of 13 possible reasons for an employer to do so.  The Government did not pursue the Right to Request Remote Working Bill and aspects of it are now included in this Bill.

The revised approach for which the Bill provides will:

  • apply a qualification period of 6 months’ continuous employment before an employee would be entitled to request a remote working arrangement,
  • require an employee to submit the request at least 8 weeks before the proposed commencement of the arrangement,
  • require the employer to respond to any request no later than 4 weeks after the request has been made, but this period may be extended by up to 8 weeks if the employer is having difficulty in assessing the viability of the proposal,
  • oblige the employer to consider the needs of both parties, and the provisions of a code of practice (yet to be published by the Workplace Relations Commission), when responding to a request,
  • oblige the employer to provide grounds for refusal, if that is the case,
  • empower the employer to terminate a remote working arrangement if it is having a substantial adverse effect on the operation on the employer’s business.

The WRC will not be entitled to consider the “merits” of any decision made by the employer to refuse a request, including the reasons for reaching their decision.

Right to request a flexible working arrangement for caring purposes

This new variety of leave will be for employees who either are a parent, or will be providing personal care or support to a person that is in a degree of relationship to the employee that the Bill recognises.

In addition to children of the employee, such persons include a spouse or civil partner, a cohabitant, a parent, a grandparent, a sibling and any person other than those already named with whom the employee lives in the same household.

To request this leave, the person affected must be in need of significant care or support for a serious medical condition.

To apply for a flexible working arrangement to care for an employee’s child, the child must be less than 12 years of age (16 years if the child is suffering from a disability or long-term illness).

The criteria for applying for such a flexible arrangement will be the same as those for the right to request remote work.  An employer must consider the request but is not bound to agree to it.

Leave for medical care purposes

The Bill will give employees an entitlement to 5 days of unpaid leave per year for medical care purposes.

Apart from doing so for the employee’s own medical care, the categories of person in respect of whom an employee will be allowed take this leave mirror those in respect of whom an employee may request a flexible working arrangement for caring purposes (see above).

The ill person must be in need of significant care or support for a “serious medical reason”.  However, “serious medical reason” is not defined in the Bill.

This unpaid leave cannot exceed 5 days in any 12-month period.  Once this leave is confirmed, the employee, if requested to do so by the employer, must provide evidence (such as medical certificates).

Domestic Violence Leave

The Bill will introduce a new variety of protected leave – Domestic Violence Leave – to assist employees in relation to any domestic violence that they may suffer, in order to seek medical attention, assistance from professional services, counselling or legal assistance.  The leave will be a maximum of 5 days in a 12-month period.

If an employee takes Domestic Violence Leave, she or he must inform the employer as soon as reasonably practical thereafter that the leave taken was Domestic Violence Leave.

The employer is obliged to pay the employee a prescribed daily rate for each day of such leave that is taken (this will be known as Domestic Violence Leave Pay).  This rate will be set by the Minister from time to time.

Extension of breastfeeding facilitation period

The Bill has amended the Maternity Protection Act 1994 to extend the period during which an employee must be facilitated in breastfeeding from 26 weeks to 104 weeks following the birth of the child.  During this period, an employee may reduce her working hours or receive paid time off for breastfeeding purposes.

Enactment and commencement

The Bill will soon go to the President to be signed into law (the formal enactment of the Bill as an Act).  Following that, in the coming weeks or months, the Minister will make one or more commencement orders in order to bring the provisions of the Bill into operation.  It is expected that this also will be in Q2 of 2023.

Recommended Action

Employers should review their existing remote/hybrid and flexible working policies, employee handbooks and such documents to ensure compliance with this important new legislation.

Also contributed to by Alva McDermott

This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.