Flexible work code is welcomed by employers and employees alike

Mary Connaughton, director of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in Ireland.

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Employers and employees can both welcome the new Code of Practice for Employers and Employees around the right to request flexible and remote working, says one leading HR expert.

Mary Connaughton, director of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in Ireland, says that workers are glad of the clarity the new code has brought, with processes that set clear parameters to any agreed changes in work practice.

“Employers are glad that you have to set a start date and a finishing date in the application,” Mary said. “For an employer, setting the number of years that you’re agreeing to means that you can trial the arrangement to see if it works for the company.

“A new employee is only entitled to take up these agreed rights from six months after they start their new role. The new codes cover areas such as probation periods, sick leave and sick pay. In reality, some employers won’t be strict in applying these elements, but they’ll welcome the clarity and the processes.”

 For any employee denied a request for flexible work (FW) or remote work (RW), the code of practice gives them an objective yardstick to gauge if their employer is showing favouritism towards a colleague whose application was accepted.

The code teases out a wide range of factors that govern the employer’s decisions to accept or refuse an employee’s FW or RW application.

“All employees can apply for remote working, but the employer might decide that certain skill sets, for instance the operation of certain machinery, might require some employees to spend more time in the workplace than others.

“The employer might agree to an employee working remotely, but insist that their written agreement includes the employer’s right to insist that the employee attends the workplace for certain meetings or functions. An employer needs to know that they can run the business properly.”

Mary Connaughton believes that the reasonable balance struck between employer and employee needs helps explain why the initial reaction has been generally positive.

That balance was no doubt helped by the fact that employer group Ibec and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) both contributed to the wording of the code. Both also welcomed its publication.

Of course, many companies couldn’t wait for these codes to be formalised and instead drove ahead with informal RW and FW arrangements with staff. Most also engaged with their staff on these issues ahead of last year’s Work-Life Balance Act.

The issuing of these new codes, however, coincides with current efforts by an increasing number of companies to bring their staff back into the workplace. The codes will help all parties as they seek to formalise RW and FW practices, putting structures around three-days-in, two-days-out etc.

On the right to request remote working, the code provides a useful framework for employees to consider in requesting remote working, including factors like long daily commutes (with reference to both time wasted and carbon footprint), quality of life, neurodiverse or medical needs.

“The broad nature of this framework sets a humane and considerate tone,” Mary said. “An employer can agree to a request for work flexibility for a parent of a child up to age 12, or up to age 16 for a child with a special need or disability.

“Similar flexibility codes apply to carers looking after someone in the home. The code helps you to put a formal agreement in place around the employee’s specific hybrid work request. A lot of people need that clarity so that they can organise their lives.”

 Employees can request flexible working in order to provide care to a range of people including children, parents, other family members and cohabitants. Flexible working can include part-time and term-time working, job-sharing and remote working.

The employee submits a request at least eight weeks in advance of a proposed start date and set out the reasons for it, identifying the person or people requiring their care and providing detail of any medical conditions involved.

Meanwhile, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and the Labour Court will have the power to order employers to reappraise any employee applications they choose to refuse. Employees will be entitled to up to 20 weeks’ pay in compensation for any applications deemed to be unfairly refused.

Employers also risk fines if they don’t keep proper records. They must keep specific records of RW and FW arrangements taken by employees for up to three years or risk a fine of up to €2,500.

“Like any other grievance, an employee whose RW or FW request is refused must first exhaust the company’s internal grievance processes before going to the WRC or the Labour Court,” Mary said.

“The employer must comply with all the processes. The WRC isn’t necessarily going to reject the employer’s decision. It will look at all the elements of the process and then make a judgement.”

In reality, most employers have been slow to force people to come back to work five days a week in the office unless there is a compelling business need. Where employer and employee views differ around FW and RW arrangements, the code brings a welcome formality and framework to their discussions.

“The code helps employees and employers to structure their thoughts around their flexible and remote working requests,” said Mary. “They now have a framework to help them with their conversation, and it should help them in coming up with a solution that works for all parties involved.”


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