An Employee Guide To Flexible Working Arrangements During Covid-19

The way we work in Ireland has changed a lot over the course of the pandemic. There has clearly been an increased need for flexible working arrangements. Many are working from home with alternative working hours with others taking a blended approach between being in the office and working remotely.

What we have learned over the last seven months is that businesses, now more than ever, need to be agile and prepared to accommodate working arrangements that are vastly different to before.

The Living with Covid–19 Plan sets out the different levels that correspond to the severity of Covid–19 in any location and is our plan for living with the virus for the next 6 months.

Employers have a duty to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all their employees and must therefore ensure that they facilitate working from home when required under the Plan.

What is flexible working?

If Level 3 or higher is implemented in the whole country or just in your county, then there is a varying degree of requirements to work from home. However, at the lower levels, many employers are still choosing to allow employees more flexible working arrangements than before.

‘Flexible working’ generally means a working arrangement that differs from the traditional working week of Monday to Friday, 9am – 5.30pm. It gives employees some flexibility on how long, when and where they work.

What is the legal status in Ireland in relation to flexible working?

In August 2019, a new EU Directive came into force: the EU Directive on Work-Life Balance. Member states have three years within which to implement the Directive.

The purpose of the directive is to modernise the EU legal and policy frameworks around access to flexible working arrangements. Previously, there was no onus on the employer to grant flexible working arrangements, provided a clear reason for refusal was given.

Included in this new legislation is a focus on the accessibility of flexible work and paid leave for families who are raising children or caring for a family member.

Beyond this there is some other legislation in place in Ireland around flexible work, in particular circumstances, for example, legislation such as the Maternity Protection Act, the Parental Leave Act, the Adoptive Leave Act, the Organisation of Working Time Act, the Protection of Employees (Part Time Work) Act and Careers Leave. These do provide for some flexible working arrangements, but only in very particular circumstances.

Employees returning from parental leave also have a statutory right to request changes to working hours or patterns of work, under the European Union (Parental Leave) Regulations of 2013. The Code of Practice for Access to Part Time Work, published in 2006, does encourage employers to provide part time work options to employees and to have policies in place to help provide access to these arrangements.

What are my options as an employee in relation to flexible working?

There is a range of flexible working options such as flexitime, job sharing, remote working, or compressed hours.

  • Flexitime allows workers to work when they want as long as they complete an agreed number of hours.
  • Job Share is, as it says, a full-time job, but shared with another employee in the organisation.
  • Remote Working is very popular as the technology allows employees to work from home.
  • Compressed Hours are similar to flexitime. However, employees doing compressed hours usually work long days in order to make up enough hours to take a week off.

Things to consider:

If you are exploring a flexible working arrangement, ask yourself the following questions to see if it would work for you.

  • Is this a long-term goal or just until the pandemic is over?
  • What kind of arrangement am I looking for?
  • Would I be able to get my work done on time?
  • Would this suit my employer and their business?
  • Do I need any IT or other additional support? Are there any Data Protection issues?
  • Can I financially afford any impact that the flexible arrangement may have? Are there any tax reliefs I can avail of, particularly during the pandemic when wide ranging new initiatives have been implemented?
  • Will my terms and conditions of employment be affected?

If you think this may be a suitable option for you and your employer, draft and submit a business case to your employer. You may wish to consider proposing a trial period.

While there is no statutory requirement for an employer to grant a request for flexible working arrangements, it is becoming more and more common to work from home since the onset of Covid-19.

If your employer cannot offer a suitable flexible arrangement, they should be able to give you good, understandable reasons as to why they are not granting it or at least offer a reasonable alternative. There should be clear policies in place in your workplace detailing how these requests are to be dealt with.

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