Employers who refuse to let staff work from home face being hauled before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), under new laws to be approved today.
The removal of Covid restrictions on office working means many people are being asked to return to their desks, but the Cabinet will today approve legislation that will enhance the power of employees who want to continue remote working.
While it will not give an automatic right to work from home, it will require employers to give a good reason for rejecting requests, that can stand up to scrutiny in the Labour Court.
The new laws will also force employers to publish a written policy on the right of employees to work from home, or elsewhere outside the office.
Should requests for remote working be rejected, employees can appeal to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) which can make a binding adjudication and impose fines in certain circumstances.
The WRC will also provide protections for employees against being penalised for remote working.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who will publish the heads of the bill today, said the Government "doesn't want things to go back to normal".
"One thing we are concerned about happening, that we don't want to happen, is businesses and employers just returning to things the way they were before the pandemic.
"We want to see more remote working, more home working, more hybrid working.
“While workers can request to remote work now, there isn't a proper legal framework. This legal framework will set out the reasons according to which an employer could refuse remote working.
“Also, they [workers] will have an appeals' mechanism that can be adjudicated independently through the Workplace Relations Commission. I'm hoping to get it enacted over the next couple of months,” he said.
The Labour Party had pushed for a guarantee of remote working for employees.
“The bill won’t go that far,” Mr Varadkar said.
“We did a lot of work on this with the Attorney General. First of all, governments can only interfere in contracts, that employers and employees have signed, to a certain extent.
“And secondly, it's manifestly the case that remote working isn't always going to be possible. It's going to be very difficult to do in education and healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality, for example. But what we want to do is get to a position whereby remote working and home-working becomes a choice, and that employers facilitate that, provided the business gets done, provided public services don’t suffer,” he said.
Labour senator and employment spokesperson Marie Sherlock called for the legislation to guarantee workers the right to remote or hybrid work.
"We urgently need a 'worker first' framework that reflects the new world of work and how work has evolved over the past two years," she said.
“It makes sense for workers, for communities, for the environment and it's an innovative way of helping to address the cost-of-living crisis."
Commuters who are set for a return to the office can expect a hefty increase in fuel costs compared to pre-pandemic times, potentially setting them back hundreds of euro this year.
New figures from the AA reveal that average petrol and diesel prices reached 170.3c and 160.5c per litre this month.
This compares to averages of 134.5c and 129.8c per litre in February 2020 which was the last full month of office working before Covid-19 locked down the country.
This means that a 60km commute (the distance from Charleville to Cork City) will cost motorists over €2,600 a year in petrol at current prices, an increase of almost €550 compared to pre-pandemic rates.