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Tánaiste Signs Code of Practice on Right to Disconnect

Tánaiste also Invites Views on Putting Right to Request Remote Working into Law

From today, all employees officially have the Right to Disconnect from work and have a better work-life balance, after Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment Leo Varadkar TD brought in a new Code of Practice.

The Tánaiste is today also inviting views on his plans to put the right to request remote working into law.

Both are part of the Tánaiste’s commitment to create more flexible family-friendly working arrangements, including working from home and working more flexible hours. They also build on the Our Rural Future plan published this week, the Government’s blueprint to transform rural Ireland, by facilitating more people to work remotely and flexibly.

The Tánaiste, said:

“The pandemic has transformed working practices, and many of those changes will be long-lasting. Although much of the impact of the pandemic has been negative, particularly for those who have lost jobs, income or whose businesses have been closed, it also offers an opportunity to make permanent changes for the better, whether that’s working more from home, having more time with the family, or more flexible working hours.

“I am announcing two things today. Firstly, I have signed a new Code of Practice giving all employees the Right to Disconnect. This is effective immediately. Secondly, I am opening a public consultation on the right to request remote working, inviting views from all on how this right can be enshrined in law.”

Right to Disconnect

The Right to Disconnect gives employees the right to switch off from work outside of normal working hours, including the right to not respond immediately to emails, telephone calls or other messages. There are three rights enshrined in the Code which comes into effect today:

  • The right of an employee to not have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours.
  • The right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours.
  • The duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (e.g., by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours).

The Tánaiste said:

“The Code of Practice comes into effect immediately and applies to all types of employment, whether you are working remotely or not. It will help employees, no matter what their job is, to strike a better work-life balance and switch off from work outside of their normal working hours.”

The Code of Practice needs employers and employees to work together to determine the appropriate working arrangements and policies. Because the Code is flexible, employees will have more options to work outside of traditional hours, which many people have availed of during the pandemic. And it reflects the fact that many Irish employees are part of a global network, requiring contact with colleagues around the world.

While placing the onus of management of working time on the employer is appropriate, individual responsibility on the part of employees is also required (e.g., being mindful of other colleagues’ right to disconnect or cooperating with any employer mechanism to keep a record of hours worked).

If problems or issues arise, employees have the right to raise the matter with the Workplace Relations Commission.

The Code was developed by the Workplace Relations Commission, following a request by the Tánaiste in November 2020, underpinning the commitment made in the Programme for Government to facilitate and support remote working.

Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Damien English, TD, said:

“The right to disconnect has never been more important following a seismic shift in work practices this time last year, as Government asked people who could work from home to do so in the interest of suppressing the virus.  The publication of the Code of Practice is a positive step in providing practical guidance on the right to disconnect.  It will ensure that both employers and employees are aware of their requirements and entitlements and understand how they apply, especially when it is time to unplug and recharge the batteries by switching off properly from work, especially in a remote working scenario.”

The Director General of the WRC, Liam Kelly, commented:

“Disconnecting from work and work-related devices necessitates a joint approach by employers and employees. While placing the onus of management of working time on the employer is appropriate, individual responsibility on the part of employees is also required.”

The Tánaiste noted:

“Thanks to the WRC for its role in putting this Code together. I’d also like to thank and acknowledge the work of ICTU and Ibec for their contribution. I now encourage employers to engage proactively with employees to develop a Policy suited to their needs. The Code of Conduct includes a generic template policy to get people started.”

Right to Request Remote Working

The Tánaiste is today also inviting views on his plans to put the right to ask for remote working into law.

The Tánaiste said:

“Putting the right to request remote working into law will provide a clear framework around which requesting, approving or refusing remote work can be based. In putting this into law, we recognise that remote working doesn’t work for everyone or for every organisation, so the Government will take a balanced approach with the new legislation.I encourage employers and employees alike to engage with this consultation and make their views known.”

Currently in Ireland, all employees can ask their employers for the right to work remotely, but there is no legal framework around which a request can be made and how it should be dealt with by the employer. This new law will set out clearly how these requests should be facilitated as far as possible.

Not all work lends itself easily to remote working, for example where a worker needs to be physically present on site to do a task, interact with others, or use location-specific specialised machinery or equipment. In cases where remote work is suitable, a hybrid or blended model with a combination of remote work and onsite work may be the preferred arrangement. Some organisations may prefer a model where employees are required to come onsite only a few days a week or month. Some companies will need a core of ‘anchor’ people, who will be in the office or on site most days because they need to be. The new law will look at how all of these possibilities can be facilitated.

Further information on how to make a submission can be found at Public Consultation on the introduction of a Right to Request Remote Work

The closing date for submissions is Friday 7th May. 

Notes for Editor

The Government’s Remote Working Strategy can be read here

The Government, via the Strategy, has committed over the course of this year to:

  • legislate to provide employees the right to request remote working
  • introduce a legally admissible code of practice on the right to disconnect from work – covering phone calls, emails and switch-off time
  • invest in remote work hubs, ensuring they are in locations that suit commuters and are close to childcare facilities
  • explore the acceleration of the National Broadband Plan
  • review the treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenditure in the next Budget
  • lead by example by mandating that home and remote working should be the norm for 20% of public sector employees.

Right to Disconnect

The full Code available to view here:

Code of Practice for employers and employees on the Right to Disconnect

The purpose of this Code is to provide practical guidance and best practice to employers, employees and their representatives in relation to the Right to Disconnect. The Code reflects the WRC’s objective to achieve harmonious working relations between employers and employees through promoting compliance with relevant employment, equality and equal status legislation and codes of practice, early dispute resolution, mediation, conciliation, facilitation and advisory services, and adjudication on complaints and disputes.

In accordance with the provisions of section 20(4) the Workplace Relations Act, 2015, the WRC carried out a public consultation and received 37 submissions which were fully considered in the development of the Code. The WRC also successfully engaged with representatives of both employers and employees, including IBEC and ICTU, in finalising this Code of Practice.

While failure to follow a Code prepared under section 20(1)(a) of the Workplace Relations Act, 2015 is not an offence in itself, section 20(9) provides that in any proceedings before a Court, the Labour Court or the WRC, a Code of Practice shall be admissible in evidence and any provision of the Code which appears to the court, body or officer concerned to be relevant to any question arising in the proceedings shall be considered in determining that question.

Section 20(2) of the Workplace Relations Act, 2015 provides, at the request of the Minister, for the preparation of draft codes of practice by the WRC for submission to the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment. There is no formal Right to Disconnect under Irish or European law. This Code of Practice provides practical guidance for employers and employees to assist in meeting existing obligations under existing legislation.

The purpose of the Code is to provide practical guidance and best practice to employers, employees and their representatives in relation to the Right to Disconnect. The Code is designed to provide guidance for the resolution of workplace issues arising from the Right to Disconnect both informally and formally, and

  • complement and support employers’ and employees’ rights and obligations under the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 (OWTA), the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 (SHWWA), the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018 and the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 – 2014.
  • assist employers and employees in navigating an increasingly digital and changed working landscape which often involves remote and flexible working.
  • provide assistance to those employees who feel obligated to routinely work longer hours than those agreed in their terms and conditions of employment.
  • assist employers in developing and implementing procedures and policies to facilitate the Right to Disconnect.

Right to Request Remote Working

For more information and to find out how you can submit to the consultation, please see here Public Consultation on the introduction of a Right to Request Remote Work