Workers in Ireland are obliged to honour their contracts if their employer requires them to return to the office, says Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar. A ‘staggered and phased’ return to the workplace began on September 20, under the reopening roadmap launched by the government.
In this article, leading HR and employment law consultant, Breda Cullen, offers her expert advice on the roadmap, and the impact that this will have on employers and workplaces in the coming months.
Ms Cullen says: “Many employers and employees will have been working at home since March 2020. The return to the workplace may pose a lot of challenges for employers, particularly if employees would prefer to work remotely.
“It is essential for employers to continually communicate, consult and engage with staff. It is important to deal with employees concerns and manage this on a case by case basis. Employees may have different sets of circumstances, so it’s crucial to speak with them about their concerns and barriers, and evaluate how the situation can be managed in the fairest and most reasonable way possible.”
The easing of restrictions should not be seen as an indication to hurry back to the workplace, but, as we slowly return to normality, employers should begin to prepare and establish the best course of action for their workforce.
Can Employees Legally Request To Keep Woking Remotely?
There is currently no legal requirement for employers to allow the continuation of home working or hybrid working. The legality surrounding the employees’ rights depends on what is written in the contract of employment under the location of work.
However, there will be legislation coming into effect later in the year where employees will have a legal right to be able to request to work remotely, but employers are not obliged to grant this.
Ms Cullen explains: “It’s important to plan ahead for all of the scenarios now and have a structured policy in place for leave and pay. It is advisable to be flexible in your approach, to be very fair and reasonable, and to take into account any protected characteristic such as an underlying medical condition, an employee that may be pregnant, challenges with childcare or people who are continuing to isolate.
“Lastly, ensure that your communication is regular. As circumstances continue to change, it is recommended you communicate clearly with employees to make sure you take into account any concerns they have. If home working or hybrid working works well for your organisation and employees are open to this, there are no issues with continuing with this structure.
“If neither arrangement is an option for your business and you require employees back in the workplace, you may want to consider a staggered and gradual approach to that, ensuring that all your safety control measures continue to be in place.”
If you require bespoke advice for any situation or employment law advice in general, please do not hesitate to contact HR team and one of the team will be happy to assist you: Ireland: +353 1 695 0749
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