The Irish Government has brought in the Work Life Balance Act 2023, acknowledging the value for workers of being able to work remotely, tend to caring responsibilities, and access support in domestic violence scenarios.
The legislation impacts employers in the areas of leave management and payroll in Ireland. Here are the key facts that payroll and HR professionals need to know.
What is the Work Life Balance Act 2023?
On 4th April, 2023, the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022, which transposed an EU directive, was signed into law. This employment legislation introduced new rights for employees to help strike a better balance of work life with family life and caring duties.
The mechanisms include unpaid leave for medical care alongside remote and flexible working arrangements. It also aims to support domestic violence victims by way of a statutory paid leave entitlement.
The Work Life Balance Bill represents a significant advance in workers’ rights in Ireland. It recognises the importance of family life and an improved quality of life for all workers, by supporting employees to achieve a better balance between their home lives and work lives.”Roderic O’Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration, and Youth
What are the key provisions of the Act?
The main provisions of the Work Life Balance Act are:
- Five days’ unpaid leave (over a 12-month period) for medical care purposes for parents of children under 12, and carers
- Five days’ paid leave (over a 12-month period) for victims of domestic violence
- The right to request flexible working for parents and carers
- The right to request remote working for all employees
The first provision takes effect first. There will also be an extension to the breastfeeding facilitation period, from 26 to 104 weeks. During this time, women can take breaks to breastfeed (as per an amendment to the Maternity Protection Act 1994). The remaining three elements are scheduled to come into effect by autumn 2023.
On remote working, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) is running consultations to develop a code of practice.
How does the Work Life Balance Act impact employees and employers?
Some larger employers may have already introduced the measures being legislated for. However, all employers will have to examine their remote and flexible working policies and payroll practices to accommodate the new law.
They will also need to keep abreast of when particular provisions of the Act come into force and the specifics of the Code of Practice, once published.
Unpaid leave for medical reasons
The unpaid medical leave is for employees to provide “significant care or support for a serious medical reason” to a child, spouse, civil partner, parent, grandparent, cohabitant, sibling or person who resides in the same household. A child must be less than 12 years of age, or 16 years if suffering from a disability or long-term illness.
This is different to force majeure leave, which allows paid leave for an urgent family matter. The impact of this unpaid leave will be most significant in the services sector. Here, employers must provide for the employee while also providing a replacement worker to deliver the service.
Extension of breastfeeding facilitation
During the increased breastfeeding facilitation period, an employee can avail of reduced working hours or paid time off to breastfeed or express milk. And employers must provide appropriate facilities in the workplace to enable a breastfeeding employee to return to work.
Paid leave for victims of domestic violence
Ireland is one of the first countries to introduce statutory domestic violence leave in the hope of supporting victims of domestic violence to leave abusive relationships. The leave is to allow these employees to engage with medical, legal, and other specialist support services. The pay rate for those taking this leave is as yet undetermined.
Right to request remote working
All employees will have a right to request remote work (after six months’ continuous service and at least eight weeks before the proposed commencement). The Act removes the statutory requirement for an employer to have a remote working policy. But employers will have to consider their own needs, those of the employee making the request, and the terms of the WRC Code of Practice when evaluating applications.
The response must come no later than four weeks after the request. This may be extended by up to eight weeks if the employer is having difficulty assessing the proposal’s viability. Employees have the right to know the grounds for any refusal.
Right to request flexible working
Employees can request flexible working arrangements if they have children, or caring responsibilities for a person requiring significant care or support for a serious medical reason. Employers can request evidence of the serious condition, such as a medical certificate. Again, they must have regard to the request according to the needs of both parties, and provide reasons if refused.
What happens if employers don’t comply with the Work Life Balance Act?
For remote or flexible working requests, employees will have a right to bring a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (and on appeal to the Labour Court) for an employer’s lack of compliance. Directions for compliance with certain provisions of the Act may be issued and/or awards of compensation of up to four- or 20 weeks’ remuneration for remote working or flexible working arrangement claims respectively.
However, in hearing claims relating to these requests, the WRC or Labour Court may not assess the merits of a decision reached by an employer following their consideration of the request nor the grounds for refusal of a request by the employer.
As the measures in the Work Life Balance Act take effect, it’s a good time for employers to look at their policies on leave management, as well as remote and flexible working. Payroll practices will also be affected, so these will need to be reassessed in line with the new legislation.”Mark Sexton, New Business Sales Manager, Zellis Ireland
How will the Act benefit employees and employers?
Flexibility and work-life balance are known to be key drivers of employee engagement and job satisfaction, resulting in positives for both workers and employers.
The WRC Code of Practice will give further guidance to some employers with their approach to remote working. Proper documentation of requests for remote or flexible working will improve clarity for both the employee and employer.
According to Women’s Aid, while it may only be a small proportion of employees who will ever need to avail of the domestic violence leave, the provision has a significant positive impact:
What we have seen in companies where systems exist is that colleagues are given the tools they need to signpost the supports that are available, and so it also provides a sense of awareness and solidarity.”Sara Benson, Chief Executive, Women’s Aid
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