2022 has so far seen a welcomed return to the norm although with numerous societal shifts arising during the course of the pandemic, many employees are now asking themselves how the traditional employment relationship can be better enhanced going forward. With that, there has been mounting pressure on the Government to offer guidance and direction on the future of working relationships. This has led to the following measures currently being considered:
1. Statutory Sick Pay
Ireland is one of the few countries in the EU that does not operate a statutory sick pay scheme. The Sick Leave Bill 2022, intends to change this by requiring all employers to provide qualifying employees paid sick leave. This entitlement is anticipated to be introduced on a phased basis later in 2022 commencing with 3 days paid sick leave initially, increasing to 5 days in 2024, 7 days in 2025, and 10 days in 2026. The rate of pay is anticipated to be 70% of an employee's wage capped at a daily rate of €110. To qualify, employees must be working for an employer for a minimum of 13 weeks and must obtain a medical certificate declaring them unfit for work. Once qualified, this entitlement will be a legally enforceable right before the WRC.
2. Right to Work Remotely
Remote working is one of the main legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic. To meet this expectation, the Government recently published the General Scheme of the Right to Request Remote Working Bill 2022. This Bill proposes the legal framework for requesting, approving or declining a request for remote working. If enacted, the Bill will require all workplaces to have a written statement setting out an employer's Remote Working Policy to include the manner in which requests may be made, the timeframe for deliberations and the specific conditions which shall apply to remote working generally within the organisation. The Bill also makes provision for a right of appeal to the WRC where an employer fails to return a decision on request or provide notice of grounds for refusal. While the Bill is a welcome development encouraging formalised change to the workplace, it still needs to go through the full legislative process before it becomes law and may be subject to further change and amendment.
3. Work Life Balance
The General Scheme of a Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022 proposes a number of legislative changes, the objective of which is to achieve a better work life balance for parents and carers. This Bill proposes a right for employees with children up to the age of 12 (or 16 if the child has a disability or long-term illness), and employees with caring responsibilities, to request flexible working arrangements for a set period of time for caring purposes. It also proposes the introduction of 5 days’ unpaid leave, per year, per employee, where, for serious medical reasons, the employee is required to provide personal care or support to family members or loved ones such as a child, spouse, cohabitant, parent and sibling. Finally, it proposes an extension of the period from 26 weeks to 104 weeks following the birth of a child during which employees have an entitlement to paid time off from work or a reduction of working hours for breastfeeding purposes.
4. Parent's Leave
Parent's Leave was first introduced as a statutory entitlement in 2019 to enable working parents spend more time with their baby or adopted child during their first year. This form of leave is paid by the Department of Employment and Social Protection and covered by the Parent's Leave Act 2019. It is a separate and independent right to parental leave which is unpaid and does not need to be taken in the first year of the child's birth. Currently, qualifying parents may take five weeks of paid Parent's Leave during the first two years of their child’s life. In Budget 2022, it was announced that this leave will be extended to provide parents with seven weeks paid Parents Leave commencing in July 2022.
The above are just some of the changes to employment law which are anticipated to take effect during the course of this year and beyond. The pandemic has certainly realigned the goals and expectations of many employees and it will be interesting to follow whether the Government responds to such new found requirements.