News and Recent Work ByrneWallace LLP identifies key employment law issues facing HR professionals in the public sector
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ByrneWallace LLP identifies key employment law issues facing HR professionals in the public sector

Thursday, 20 May 2021

Employment law issues arising from flexible working and remote working have been highlighted as key areas of concern by HR professionals working in the public sector according to a recent survey undertaken by ByrneWallace LLP and Legal Island.  

Over 67% of respondents cited the need for further guidance when dealing with requests for flexible working, while 64% highlighted concerns on how to deal with flexibility issues such as hybrid working arrangements, working from hubs etc. 

The recently announced new Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect was also identified as a key area by 64% of respondents. 

The survey, which sought feedback on the key employment law challenges faced by HR professionals working in the public sector, also found that the following Covid-related issues are amongst their top ten areas of concern:  

  • Health and Safety and Covid-19 related grievances (63%)
  • Disability discrimination in the context of Covid-19 and a return to work/continued remote working (61%)
  • Return to work issues (59%)
  • The vaccine roll out, employees who refuse to get the vaccine, and related issues (57%)

The Uber judgment and developments in the assessment of employment status (54%) and dealing with employees on long term sick leave (49%) also made the top ten. 

Commenting on the results, Partner and Head of Public Sector, Michelle Ní Longáin said, “Working life has changed irreversibly, by emergency response rather than by design. The pandemic created an unprecedented transition from office-based to remote working. This simply had to happen urgently, without a full opportunity to take time to consider and develop how best to address the various rights, responsibilities and interests of employers and employees.  Practice overtook theory and theory has had to follow. Expectations of working life have now changed, and will not reverse regardless of how the pandemic evolves. 

“The National Remote Work Strategy will give employees a legal right to request remote working. It also sets out an ambitious target requiring at least 20% of public sector workers to work remotely by the end of 2021, and this target is set to increase over the next 5 years. Achieving this target poses significant opportunities and challenges for policy makers and HR professionals working in the public sector, as they navigate the many issues that surround the design and implementation of flexible working arrangements, while continuing to deliver excellent public services and meet legal obligations and employee expectations.”

Scott Alexander, Head of L&D at Legal Island said, “It’s not a surprise that the two most popular issues respondents highlighted are flexible working and remote working.

“The release this week of NUI Galway’s survey on remote working found that 95% of workers now favour some form of remote working. There’s going to be no stopping it. It’s inevitable that some form of hybrid/remote working will be the norm in the public sector, as it will elsewhere. Indeed, the government has promised as much from a policy point of view. Employers, regardless of sector, will have to offer some home working or they’ll struggle to keep or get staff. But allowing staff to work from home brings new responsibilities and concerns.”

Emmet Whelan, Employment Law partner at ByrneWallace LLP added, “The Government is taking a proactive approach to flexible and remote working. One of the key developments from the Remote Working Strategy was the introduction of the new Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect. The Code clarifies how this right should be implemented in practice, and recommends the development of a Right to Disconnect Policy. HR professionals in the public sector will need to implement the Code, introduce a right to request remote working, and also promote remote working as a viable option for public sector employees to meet the requirements of the Remote Working Strategy.”

In response to the survey findings, ByrneWallace LLP and Legal Island are hosting a conference on Thursday, 27 May which has been tailored to meet the specific needs of HR professionals working in public sector organisations. 

During the conference, employment law experts from ByrneWallace LLP will provide legal updates on the key employment law issues identified in the survey research including the new Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect and proposed right to request remote working, and Covid-related issues around vaccinations and the return to the workplace. 

The virtual event will also include a panel discussion with senior HR and policy experts from the public sector discussing practical issues related to remote working in the public sector, in the context of the Government’s Remote Working Strategy.

Speakers and panellists will include: 

  • Louise McGirr, Head of HR Policy, Department of Public Expenditure & Reform
  • Anne Marie Hoey, National Director of Human Resources, Health Service Executive

For further information on the ByrneWallace LLP and Legal Island Employment Law in the Public Sector Conference, click here.