In our most recent podcast (August 2023) a panel of experienced employment lawyers discussed various legal tools that can help maintain the work-life balance and to what extent evolutions are noticeable in this respect, for instance following the corona crisis. This article summarises the key points discussed in the podcast with regards to remote work.
The corona crisis had an undeniable effect on the work-life balance, with the rise of remote work as a notable consequence of it. During the crisis, in Belgium, there was a duty to work from home. Before, Belgium already had two voluntary types of remote work: regular (with a specific contract in writing and a specific cost arrangement) or occasional (without a contract in writing and with a flat rate cost arrangement) remote work.
Belgian employees have discovered the benefits of remote working during the crisis (less travel time, better concentration and higher productivity). For the employer, remote work can reduce certain costs (rental, displacement). However, remote work is not possible for every kind of job and brings forth new IT security challenges. Nevertheless, remote working will most probably stay popular, with Belgian employees now expecting this kind of flexibility.
In Italy, remote working was introduced as early as 2011, aimed at supporting female employment. A Law (n. 81 of 2017) and Protocol for Remote Working (December 7, 2021) further developed remote working and the formalities for it. The Law 81/2017 provides for the obligation of the employer to give priority to requests submitted by employees with children up to twelve years of age or disabled children, as well as requests submitted by employees with serious disabilities, caregivers or so-called "fragile" workers. According to a study carried out by Randstad Research, at the end of 2021 2.9 million of employees out of 8 million used remote working in Italy at least one day a week. According to the Remote Working Observatory of the School of Management within the Milan Polytechnic, remote working was present in approximately 91% of large Italian companies in 2022 (it was 81% in 2021 and 65% in 2019), with an average of approximately 9.5 days of remote work per month.
The UK government is to introduce secondary legislation to implement the right to request flexible working as a "day 1 right" (as opposed to a right after 26 weeks of continuous service). This is a right to request, not a right to flexible working.
In Ireland, the Work-Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023 was signed into law on 4 April 2023. The Workplace Relations Commission will also be publishing a code of practice pursuant to the Act, presumably providing more guidance to employers on it. The Act provides for the right to request a flexible working arrangement, including remote working. Interesting to note is that the Act also introduces Domestic Violence leave to Ireland, which provides for five days paid leave for victims of domestic violence, and enhanced breast feeding rights.
Work-Life Balance Podcast
Listen to the Work-Life Balance podcast chaired by Jef Michielsen (BE – Bellaw) and with contributions from Inge Derde (BE – Bellaw), Anna Cozzi (IT – Daverio&Florio), Naomi Latham (UK – CM Murray) and Bernadette Daly (IE – CC Solicitors).