The Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023 (the “Act”) was signed in to law on the 4th of April 2023.
The Act, transposes the EU Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers and introduces new rights for employees in Ireland striving to balance family life, work life and caring responsibilities.
The various elements of the Act will come in to effect in a staggered manner, with the introduction of leave for medical care purposes and extension of breastfeeding breaks to two years coming in to effect from 3rd July 2023.
- Parts Coming into effect from the 3rd of July 2023
Extended Breastfeeding Rights: The Act will amend the Maternity Protection Act 1994 by increasing the breastfeeding facilitation period from 26 weeks following the birth of the child to a total of 104 weeks. In addition, the Act through the deletion of section 7(2) of the Maternity Protection Act 1994, allows transgender male employees who have given birth access to maternity leave.
Leave for Medical Care Purposes: The Act specifies an employee is entitled to unpaid leave of up to 5 days within a consecutive period of 12 months to care for someone in need of “significant care or support for a serious medical reason”. This includes a parent or grandparent, or a spouse or civil partner etc. The employee must inform their employer in writing as soon as reasonably practicable when the leave is to be taken, duration of leave, and of the facts entitling the employee to take leave. The leave may not be taken in periods of less than one day and crucially, there is no minimum service requirement for this leave.
This leave is in addition to Force Majeure Leave of 3 days leave in any 12 consecutive months, or 5 days in any 36 consecutive months. Absence for part of a day is counted as one day of force majeure leave. Force Majeure leave arises under the Parental Leave Act 1998.
- Part intended to come into effect in the Autumn
Leave for Domestic Violence: The Act provides an additional type of leave, which will provide for 5 days in a 12-month period of paid leave. The employer is required to pay “domestic violence leave pay”, the rate is to be set by the Minister. Ireland will be one of a very limited number of countries to offer paid domestic violence leave.
- Remote Working & Flexible Working
The following provisions do not have a tentative deadline for enactment presently. As the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has been tasked with creating a Code of Practice, the commencement of the following sections will depend on the publication of the Code of Practice by the WRC.
Remote working: The Act introduces a statutory right for employees to request approval from their employer for remote working. There are various requirements for this application to be done in accordance with the Act, for example, the application is to be done in writing, the commencement and duration of the arrangement specified, etc. The Act imposes an obligation on the employer to consider the request. If the request is denied, the employer is obligated to provide reasons for such a refusal.
Flexible working arrangements for caring purposes: Parents and carers will have the right to request flexible working. Flexible working arrangements could include; working hours or patterns, and/or the use of remote working, and/or reduced working hours. Employers in receipt of such requests must consider the request in accordance with its needs and the employee’s needs and must provide reasons if refused.
The Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023 introduces welcome enhancements to the work-life balance of employees in Ireland.
The parts which come into effect as of the 3rd of July, namely the extended breastfeeding rights and the leave for medical care purposes will be extremely beneficial to those who wish to avail of such enhancements.
Furthermore, by providing leave for domestic abuse victims/survivors, Ireland will be one of a limited number of countries affording such leave and is setting an example in Europe, come Autumn.
COVID-19 truly changed the landscape of employment in Ireland, with a notable shift to remote working for many. The choice of remote work has continued following the pandemic in many organisations. However, this Act, by way of introducing a statutory right to request remote working coupled with an obligation on employers to consider such requests, ensures consideration for employees whose organisation has requested employee presence in the workplace. The effect of such a right will have to be considered following the publication of the WRC’s Code of Practice.