Ireland: Key points from the recently announced Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill
26 April 2022
The Irish government has approved the drafting of a Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill.
This General Scheme of a Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022 (the General Scheme) was brought to Cabinet by Minister Roderic O’Gorman who hopes that it will pass through both houses of the Oireachtas by the end of July 2022. The General Scheme proposes a number of legislative changes which are designed to allow for a better work life balance for parents and carers, to encourage more equal sharing of parental leave between men and women and ultimately to try and improve the representation of women in the labour market.
What are the key proposals under the General Scheme?
Right to request flexible working
The General Scheme proposes the introduction of 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. The General Scheme goes further than the EU Work-life Balance Directive (the Directive) and will apply to children up to 12 years old (or 16 as outlined above), whereas the Directive provides this right for parents with children up to eight years old.
It was expected that this right might have been extended to all employees, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Under the current draft, the employee requesting flexible working arrangements needs to have six months’ service with the employer before they can make a request and must make the request at least six weeks before the arrangement is intended to start. Employers must consider the request and will have four weeks to respond. They can either grant, postpone or refuse the flexible working arrangement and will be required to provide reasons for any refusal or postponement. In certain cases, the time period to respond can be extended by a further eight weeks.
Requests can be postponed for six months where an employer is satisfied that the commencement of the arrangement would have a substantial adverse effect on the operation of the business because of:
- seasonal variations in the volume of work;
- the unavailability of someone to carry out the employee’s duties;
- the nature of their duties;
- the number of other employees availing of flexible working arrangements; or
- any other relevant matter.
Flexible working arrangements will need to be documented in an agreement.
At the end of the flexible working arrangement, the employee is entitled to return to their original working arrangements, hours or patterns (employees are also entitled to request an early return to their original working arrangements).
Leave for medical care purposes
The General Scheme proposes the introduction of five 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. This leave cannot be taken in periods of less than one day and the employer may request evidence of the employee’s relationship with the person needing medical care, the nature of the medical care required and medical certification of the serious medical issue. This right is in addition to existing entitlements under the Carer’s Leave Act 2001 and force majeure leave.
Extension of the period during which time can be taken out from work to breastfeed
The General Scheme 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.
Extension of maternity leave entitlements to transgender men
The General Scheme proposes to provide for the right of a transgender male who has, in accordance with the Gender Recognition Act 2015, obtained a gender recognition certificate and subsequently becomes pregnant, to fall within the scope of the Maternity Protection Act 1994.
The Directive requires that national legislation implementing it takes place by August 2022. The General Scheme is currently with the Office of the Attorney General for formal drafting of the relevant bill and will then proceed through the legislative stages of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Although the legislation will need to transpose elements of the Directive, it remains to be seen if the government will take the opportunity to go further than is required in respect of the entitlements set out above.
Once implemented employers will need to review and amend their family and caring leave policies to ensure they are compliant with the new legislation. As with the right to request remote work, we expect the government will issue guidance to employers on how to handle requests for flexible working arrangements and that policies will be required or recommended.
For more information on this or any other employment law matters in Ireland please contact the Lewis Silkin team.
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