Law & Regulation
Employment Law Changes, What to Expect in 2023 by Sarah Fagan
Employment Law Changes,
What to Expect in 2023
by Sarah Fagan
Integration of the Right to Request Remote Work and Work Life Balance
The employment landscape is set to see many new legislative changes enacted throughout 2023, a key one being the integration of the Right to Request Remote Work into the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill. This integration means that employers and employees will now be making and considering requests for flexible or remote working under one piece of legislation and one Code of Practice to be developed by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

These rights are part of the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill (2022), anticipated to be enacted this year. These measures by the government aim to bring Ireland into compliance with the EU Work Life Balance Directive, 2019.

Under the integrated Bill, remote working will be defined as one type of flexible working and the right to request any other type of flexible working will be limited to parents and carers. The primary difference between the previous Right to Request Remote Working Bill are in the grounds of refusal and the redress that will be available. Under the integrated bill, an employer will have an obligation to consider both the needs of the organisation and the employee when contemplating any request as well as having regard to the Code of Practice. Where an employer has not complied with the Code of Practice or other requirements of the Bill a complaint can be made to the WRC, which is seen as an enhanced right.

Other key changes to be introduced include:
  1. A right for parents and carers to request flexible working arrangements for caring purposes.
  2. The introduction of five days unpaid leave per year relating to medical care and domestic violence for certain categories of people.
  3. The extension of the current entitlement to breastfeeding breaks under the Maternity Protection Act from six months to two years.
Flexible Working:
The Bill provides for the introduction of a right to request a flexible working arrangement for caring purposes for a set period of time. This is much narrower than a general right to request flexible or remote working arrangements, although it does include a request to adjust the employee’s working arrangements, work patterns and/or working hours.

The request may be made by a parent of a child up to the age of 12 (or 16 if the child has a disability or long-term illness) and by employees providing ‘care or support for a serious medical reason”. Employers may request evidence of the medical issue and the nature of the relationship.

The Bill sets out the responsibilities of both employer and employee in relation to this request. Firstly, employees must have at least six months’ service before they are entitled to request flexible work and notice of eight weeks is required, with the employer having to respond to the request within four weeks.

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An employer may postpone the start of the proposed flexible working arrangement if the arrangement would have a substantial adverse effect on their business for reasons such as seasonal variations in the volume of the work concerned, the unavailability of a person to carry out the duties of the employee in the employment, or the nature of those duties, but must provide a reasoning for this and consult with the employee.

It is worth noting that a postponement can only be made once unless the reason relates to seasonal variation in the volume of the work concerned, in which case, the arrangement cannot be postponed more than twice.

When the agreed period of flexible working ends, the employee shall be entitled to return to the working arrangements held immediately before it started.

Changes in working patterns and operational processes must be viewed as part of the overall employer’s effort to retain staff and recruit top talent. Adare Human Resource Management’s most recent HR Barometer Report found that Retention, Recruitment and Talent Acquisition are the top two priorities for employers this year and with 63% of employers planning to increase headcount in 2023 it will be important that businesses develop a remote work strategy considering how new policies can be introduced to both support business objectives and assist employees with work-life balance.

Five Days Unpaid Leave for Serious Medical Care
Under the Bill employees will be entitled to five days unpaid leave per year to provide “significant care or support for a serious medical reason” to certain categories of people for serious medical reasons.  This will be reserved for instances of care given to a specified person who is a child, co-habitant, parent, grandparent, sibling or someone who resides with the employee.

Employees will be required to confirm to their employer in writing, as soon as reasonably practicable, that they intend to take or have taken this leave.

Employers may request evidence of the employee’s relationship with the person requiring care, the nature of the personal care or support required and a medical certificate to evidence the person’s serious medical issue.

This type of leave is subject to a maximum of 5 days in any 12-month period.

Domestic violence
The Bill provides for the introduction of leave for employees for reasons relating to domestic violence. This category of leave will allow an impacted employee to seek medical attention, seek help from victim services organisations, get counselling, relocate, get a court order, take advice, or seek assistance from the Gardaí.

Domestic violence leave will be paid at a rate which may be prescribed by the Minister and will be subject to a maximum of 5 days in any 12 months period.

In addition
The Bill will amend the Maternity Protection Acts to increase the amount of time allowable (without loss of pay) for breastfeeding purposes from 26 to 104 weeks.
Statutory Sick Pay
Since January 1st, 2023, eligible employees are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP), bringing Ireland in line with most other European countries. The entitlement includes three days paid sick leave in 2023, increasing to five days in 2024, seven days in 2025 and 10 days in 2026.

To qualify for SSP an employee must have worked for their employer for at least 13 weeks and provide a medical certificate confirming that they are unfit to work. The rate of sick pay is set at 70% of an employee’s wage, up to a maximum of €110 a day.

Many employers will already provide sick pay to their employees, in some cases an amount more than the statutory entitlement. Where this is the case, contracts and policies should be updated to provide that contractual sick pay is inclusive of SSP.

Employers who don’t already pay sick pay must ensure appropriate processes and systems are in place to administer payment during sick leave and to maintain records since 1 January 2023.

Terms and Conditions
The European Union (Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions) Regulations 2022 has now been transposed into Irish law and places a number of obligations on the employer to ensure compliance, with the aim of improving working conditions by encouraging increased transparency and predictable employment terms. Whilst Ireland had existing legislative protection in place regarding written terms of employment, this new directive introduces further obligations for employers, and we strongly encourage employers to review their terms of employment to ensure that they are compliant.
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The primary changes include the following:

  • Probationary periods are limited to six months; but this period can be increased if it can be justified by the employer or if the employee is absent due to illness or leave.
  • Previously an employee had to be provided with five core terms within 5 days of commencing employment, this has now extended to include ten core terms (the additional items having previously been part of the written statement issued within two months). All other terms of employment required to be provided to employees must now be provided within one month of the employment commencement date (previously two months).
  • Under the directive exclusivity clauses are prohibited and the right of employees to take up parallel employment is permitted, subject to certain exceptions.
  • Predictable Work – employees with very unpredictable working schedules, and those carrying out ‘on-demand’ work now have the right to know in a reasonable period in advance when work will take place. There is anti-abuse legislation for zero-hour contract work and the directive also provides the right for employees to request to be transferred to a form of employment with more predictable and secure working conditions where available and to receive a reasoned written reply.
  • Where mandatory training is required for an employee to carry out their job, then this must be provided at no cost to the employee and the training provided during working hours.

With so many additional obligations set out this year employers need to ensure they are actively reviewing their requirements for compliance and updating relevant policies, procedures and contracts of employment in order to avoid any negative implications.

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Sarah Fagan
Recently appointed Managing Director of Adare Human Resource Management.