The Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act is being rolled out in Ireland, with certain elements of the new legislation coming into force from July 2023.
The legislation gives effect to European Union (EU) directives on work-life balance for parents and carers, and amends other legislation related to flexible working, maternity leave and other matters related to workers’ rights.
Included in the Act is the right to unpaid leave and the right to request flexible working arrangements to care for children or family members with medical needs.
To help you understand the new legislation, this article covers what it means for employers and offers advice on how to prepare for it.
It covers the following:
- What is the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act?
- Why the Act has been introduced
- What the Act covers
- What’s the timeline for the rollout of the new rules?
- What employers need to do now
- Final thoughts on the Work Life Balance Act
What is the Work Life Balance And Miscellaneous Provisions Act?
The Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023 was signed into law on 4 April 2023 by President Michael D Higgins.
The new legislation gives new rights to workers to support a balance between their work life, family life and caring responsibilities.
It introduces a statutory entitlement to leave and the right to request flexible working for employees who are either parents of children or carers of close relatives who have ‘serious medical needs’.
The Act also includes a provision for victims of domestic violence to take paid leave to access services and seek counselling and other supports.
And it includes a revised approach to the previous Bill on the right to request remote working.
An extension to time off for breastfeeding employees is included and also adds the right for transgender men to avail of maternity leave.
A Code of Practice document will be published by the Workplace Relations Commission in the coming months. This will provide more details and guidance for employers and employees on the new legislation.
Why the Act has been introduced
The Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act has been introduced as part of a wider EU commitment towards greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Some provisions of the new legislation are in effect adopting EU directives, while others are revising and clarifying Irish policies around family leave and remote working.
Commenting on the introduction of the Act, Megan Power, HR consultant with Insight HR, says it “has far-reaching implications for employers and business owners as the legislation extends to all, regardless of size”.
She adds: “However, whilst it is a significant piece of legislation, and may introduce additional costs and challenges, it should be welcomed by employees and employers alike.”
The new legislation and the subsequent publication of a Code of Practice will bring “much-needed clarity around remote working” and “will help employers manage the process of dealing with such requests”.
While the legislation adds additional obligations for employers to meet, Power sees the Act as a positive move towards balance in the workplace with benefits for both employees and employers.
She says: “In addition, this shift towards more of a work-life balance can lead to improved employee well-being, including reduced stress and better mental health, all of which have a direct impact on work performance.
“These new types of leave will also likely result in reduced unplanned absences, as where there is focus and commitment to work-life balance, employees are less likely to take unscheduled absences.”
What the Act covers
The Act covers the following:
- The right to request flexible working hours for parents and carers who provide care and support for children and persons who need significant care and support for serious medical reasons
- Five days of unpaid leave for medical care purposes for carers and parents who meet the above criteria
- The right to request remote working for any employee
- The extension of breastfeeding breaks to cover the first two years
- The right to take maternity leave for transgender men
- Five days of paid leave for victims of domestic violence
Flexible working arrangements
Under the new legislation, an employee may request a flexible working arrangement if their situation falls under one of the following:
- The employee provides care to their child who requires significant care or support for a serious medical reason. The child must be under 12 years of age or 16 years if the child has a disability or long-term illness.
- The employee provides personal care or support to a person with whom they have a specified relationship, and that person requires significant care or support for a serious medical reason. The specified relationship includes a spouse or civil partner, cohabitant, parent or grandparent, sibling, or another person who lives with the employee.
As an employer, you must consider a request from an employee under the flexible working arrangement legislation.
However, you’re not obliged to agree to the request.
Medical care leave
The medical care provision entitles an employee who meets the criteria for a flexible working arrangement to five days of unpaid leave to provide personal care or support to a child or a specified person who needs significant care or support for a serious medical reason.
The employer can request evidence, such as medical certificates, from the employee.
Domestic violence leave
This provision gives an employee who has experienced or is currently experiencing domestic violence a period of paid leave to seek medical attention, assistance from professional services or other forms of support.
The leave will be a maximum of five days per 12 months.
The daily pay rate for this type of leave has yet to be determined.
The employee should inform their employer, as soon as is practical, of the type of leave they are taking.
Remote working arrangements
This provision for remote working is a revised approach from the former Right to Request Remote Working Bill that was published in January 2022.
Under the revised criteria, the following will apply:
- A request for remote working arrangements must be made in writing and include details of the proposed arrangements. The reasons for the request and details and suitability of the proposed remote working environment.
- An employee must have six months of continuous employment before submitting a request for remote working.
- The request must be submitted at least eight weeks in advance of the proposed start date of remote working.
- The employer must respond to a request within four weeks – however, this period can be extended up to eight weeks in certain circumstances.
- When deciding whether to grant the request for remote working, the employer must consider both the needs of the employee and the company’s needs.
- If the employer refuses the request, they must provide grounds for refusal.
- The employer can end a remote working arrangement if it adversely affects the operation of the business.
Read our article on the right to request remote working, which offers advice on how to support employees with remote working.
Further information on the right to request remote working is available on the Citizens Information website.
Note: The Code of Practice – to be published by the Workplace Relations Commission in the coming months – will provide further guidance on requests for remote working.
Breastfeeding breaks and maternity leave update
The Act extends the existing legislation that provides for employees to take breaks to breastfeed their child or express milk.
The entitlement of one hour paid leave per day for up to 26 weeks following the birth of their child is extended to 104 weeks – effectively up to two years.
Additional amendments provide for transgender men who have given birth to access maternity leave.
What’s the timeline for the rollout of the new rules?
On 3 July 2023, the first elements of the Act came into force. These are:
- Medical care leave
- Breastfeeding breaks
- Maternity leave access.
The entitlements that are yet to begin – and are likely to do so later in 2023 (no set dates have been announced yet) – are:
- The right to request remote working
- The right of parents and carers to request flexible working
- Domestic violence leave.
What employers need to do now
As an employer, it’s advised that you take action now to be prepared for when the legislation takes effect.
And look out for government announcements on when the next set of entitlements will be rolled out.
You should review your company’s existing remote and flexible working policies and employee handbooks to ensure you’re meeting your obligations under the new rules.
Power says some policies will require updating, such as your maternity leave policy or remote working policy, while other policies will need to be introduced, “for example, a domestic violence leave policy, a policy on leave for medical purposes, and a flexible working policy.
“Updating your policies in a compliant and clear manner (and communicating them to employees thereafter) is essential.”
So what can employers do now to prepare for the legislation coming into effect?
Power explains: “The first port of call is to examine the legislation and what it means for your organisation.
“Before drafting or updating policies, employers and business owners first need to look at how they will introduce this legislation in their organisation.
“Will they follow the statutory requirements or offer more generous terms?
“Who in the organisation will manage the requests for these different types of leave/flexible/remote working, and are they trained to do this?”
She also recommends that employers carry out an assessment of training needs in advance of the new provisions coming into effect to ensure they have the necessary resources in place.
She adds: “Is training required, and are there any other additional resources to be considered, such as support services for those who come forward to say they have been affected by domestic violence.”
Final thoughts on the Work Life Balance Act
The introduction of new legislation means you’ll need to amend and update your process so they’re in line with the requirements.
This guide will assist you in reviewing and updating your employee handbook and relevant policies, including your obligations around maternity and parental leave and flexible and remote working.
If you need support with the changes required to adhere to the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, it’s worth speaking with an HR and employment expert.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in May 2023 and has been updated for relevance.
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