Anne O'Connell Solicitors | View firm profile
The General Scheme of the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022 (“the Bill”) that is due to be implemented later this year was approved by Cabinet on 21st April. The General Scheme contains proposed amendments to various pieces of legislation including the Parental Leave Act 1998, the Maternity Protection Act 1994, and the Adoptive Leave Act 1995, required in line with certain articles of the EU Work-Life Balance Directive which is due to be transposed into Irish law by 2nd August this year.
Some of the main provisions of the proposed Bill can be summarised as follows:
- A right to request flexible working, including compressed or reduced hours for employees with children or those with other caring responsibilities.
- The introduction of up to 5 days’ unpaid leave per year for employees to provide personal care or support to family members or others living in their household and who require significant care or support as a result of a serious medical condition.
- An extension of the entitlement to time off work or to a reduction of working hours for breastfeeding from 26 weeks to 104 weeks.
- The provision for transgender males who have obtained gender recognition certificates to rights under the Maternity Protection Act in circumstances where they subsequently become pregnant.
- Amendments to current legislation so as to make their provisions gender neutral and/or gender inclusive.
Reactions to the General Scheme: The General Scheme has been met with mixed reactions. While overall it is a welcome development, criticisms include the following:
- That there is too much emphasis on employees with caring responsibilities such that the benefits are not of universal application. For example, the introduction of a right to request flexible working does not extend to all employees but only to those with children up to the age of 12 (or 16 if the child has a disability/long-term illness) and employees with caring responsibilities.
- That the meaning of a “serious medical issue” is unclear. Issues may also arise in respect of the privacy and data protection rights of the individual requiring care who may not want details of his or her condition shared with the employee’s employer. Under the General Scheme, employers are entitled to request evidence of the nature of the care required along with medical certification regarding the serious medical issue.
- That the meaning of “flexible working arrangements” is open to interpretation, with the Scheme referring only to “changes to…working arrangements and or hours and or patterns.”
It has also been pointed out that there is a cohort of ‘essential workers’ who will be unable to benefit from the flexibility envisaged by the General Scheme because their employers will not be in a position to facilitate a change to their working hours or other working arrangements.
Takeaway for Employers: While the draft Bill has not yet been enacted and further work is likely to be required, for example to ensure greater clarity in its provisions, it is anticipated that the legislation will be passed and enacted by the deadline of 2nd August. Employers should use this time to review their flexible working and leave policies and prepare for the expected changes.