Staff may resist a return to work over health and childcare concerns, causing a standoff with bosses seeking to reopen businesses, an employment law expert has warned.
Barry Walsh, head of the employment department at Fieldfisher solicitors, said it was reasonable to anticipate tension as businesses reopen with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
His warning came as a legal advice charity reported that it had experienced a huge surge in employment-related queries in recent weeks.
These include complaints that some employees had been urged to resign if they were against returning to the workplace.
The situation is complicated by the lack of a code of practice in relation to remote working.
Mr Walsh said there was no absolute right to remote working or flexible arrangements, beyond an employee's contracted terms.
But he believes businesses who take robust disciplinary action against employees who do not want to return to the workplace will not be looked upon sympathetically by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). "It is reasonable to anticipate tension between some employers and employees and we can expect standoffs with some employees resisting a return to the traditional workplace on either health and safety grounds or due to childcare constraints," he said.
"Other employees may simply prefer working from home, in light of a good recent working experience and may resist calls to return."
Mr Walsh said that when the dust settles on Covid-19, the WRC and the Labour Court may become very busy places.
He said that while the Government had encouraged employers to facilitate employees to continue to work remotely where possible, some organisations would simply not be amenable to longer-term home working.
Mr Walsh said employers needed to "consult extensively", "tread cautiously" and "reach accommodations" where possible.
Mr Walsh spoke out just weeks after an NUI Galway survey of over 7,000 workers across a wide range of industries and sectors found that more than 80pc of people working from home wanted to continue doing so.
More than two-thirds of those surveyed said their productivity was the same or better while working remotely.
Legal advice charity the FLAC said it had experienced a steady increase in employment law queries since restrictions on movement were introduced in March.
As of last week, employment law queries had overtaken family law, which usually dominates inquiries from the public.
Meanwhile, a Health and Safety Authority spokesperson said it has received around 3,000 queries on Covid-19 from workers, employers and the public since the public health measures were rolled out.
The general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu), Patricia King, said workers would have to have confidence that they are going back to a safe workplace when businesses reopen.
"Part of this will be workers knowing employers can be inspected easily and quickly," she said.
"They don't have to accept an employer telling them it will all be grand. Lack of childcare will also cause a lot of stress, and the advice is that employers should be open to new arrangements with people, although there will probably be employers who won't want to do that."