First published: April 3rd 2023
Last updated: June 27th 2023
Parents and carers are the first cohort of employees to receive new rights under the Work Life Balance Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023.
Once fully in force, this new piece of employment legislation will introduce five new statutory rights for employees to support a better work life balance and to support staff with caring responsibilities.
The Government has confirmed that two of these new rights will come into effect from 3 July 2023.
The first is the extension of the entitlement to take breastfeeding breaks from six months to two years.
The second is a new right for parents and carers to take 5 days’ unpaid leave for medical purposes.
What are the new employee rights?
In summary, the Act introduces the following rights:
- 5 days unpaid leave for medical care purposes for parents of children under 12, and carers
- 5 days paid leave for victims of domestic violence
- the right to request flexible working for parents and carers
- the right to request remote working for all employees
- right to breastfeeding breaks extended to two years from date of child’s birth
WRC Code of Practice on the right to request remote work
As all employees with more than six months’ continuous service will soon have a right to request remote work, all employers will need to plan for how they intend to manage these requests.
The Workplace Relations Commission is also developing a Code of Practice which should provide further guidance for both employers and employees on how to manage requests for remote working arrangements.
While employers will be obliged to consider these requests under the new law, it should be remembered that there is no obligation to grant all requests.
If employers refuse the request, the Act states they must provide a written notification to the employee confirming the reasons for the refusal.
Potential impact of the new law
The new right to request flexible work for parents and carers and the right to request remote work for all employees are designed to promote better work life balance.
While they certainly represent a new development in employment law in Ireland, how these new rights operate in practice remains to be seen.
Employers will need to develop policies for managing this type of request and prepare for negotiations with employees who want to alter their working patterns.
The Code of Practice to be issued by the Workplace Relations Commission should be helpful in this regard.
It’s important to remember that not all jobs lend themselves to remote work. So while every employee will soon enjoy these new rights, it simply won’t be a factor in certain industries.
Employers in industries that have developed remote work practices in recent years may find themselves under pressure to grant requests. If operations were largely unaffected by remote working arrangements brought in to deal with pandemic restrictions, it might be difficult to refuse a request for productivity or operational reasons.
And with the jobs market remaining tight, employers who refuse requests risk losing valued employees to a competitor who does offer flexible or remote working options.
Bespoke employment policies necessary
As it seems highly unlikely that all businesses will be able to roll out generic “one size fits all” policies to manage all these new employee rights, each business will need to tailor new policies to the specific needs of its operations.
While employers should wait until the WRC Code of Practice is finalised before tailoring their remote work policies, it’s a good idea to begin preparing to update handbooks and policies to reflect these upcoming changes, which will make remote working more accessible for more employees.
The first priority for employers is to ensure their policies and procedures in relation to breastfeeding breaks and the new statutory right to unpaid leave for parents and carers are up to date by July 3.
Employers also need to be ready to handle conversations with employees who want to exercise their rights under the legislation and ensure that they apply a consistent approach. It’s vital to avoid allegations of unfair treatment when dealing with family-friendly entitlements.
What about the remaining rights?
Employers should also prepare for the full implementation of this legislation later this year.
The right to take domestic violence leave is the next step and this is scheduled to come into effect in the autumn.
A further update on the Code of Practice should also issue in the autumn.
In the meantime, employers should review their existing employee handbook and identify what changes are needed to ensure all the new statutory rights are addressed and that they are in a good position to handle requests from employees in a fair and consistent manner.
Need HR help to keep up with new work life balance rights?
With the help of our HR experts, we can ensure your business is ready to handle employees who want to exercise their new rights under the work life balance legislation.
For instant HR advice and answers to any employment law questions you have, speak to one of our experts now on 1800 719 219