Workers will be able to take case against employers who refuse reduced or flexible hours requests under new legislation

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Philip Ryan

Employees will be able to take legal cases against their employer if they refuse a request for more flexible working hours under the Government’s new work-life balance laws.

The legislation will stipulate that employees can challenge the view of their employers through the Workplace Relations Commission if the employer rejects a request for reduced or flexible hours to take care of children or relatives.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the soon-to-be-introduced five days of carer’s leave will only apply to workers with a relative or other person living in their home “who is in need of significant care or support for a serious medical reason”.

It comes as opposition politicians criticised the limits of the new legislation, which allows parents of children under 12 and carers to request flexible working hours.

Labour senator Marie Sherlock said the legislation is “short-sighted and wasteful”.

“Flexibility in terms of hours of work and place of work is a key demand of workers,” she said.

“Flexible work should not just be something granted for those with caring responsibilities and, as many parents point out, the need for flexibility does not stop when a child turns 12.”

The Cabinet agreed last night to introduce Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman’s Work Life Balance Bill, which aims to fulfil commitments set out in an EU directive on workers’ rights.

The key element of the bill is the introduction of five days of unpaid leave for parents or carers who need time off work to look after sick children or relatives.

Mr O’Gorman’s spokesperson said the EU directive states that carer’s leave should only be granted to an employee to care for a relative or a person living in their home “who is in need of significant care or support for a serious medical reason”.

An employer will also be able to request evidence of the medical need for leave. This could involve employees providing their employers with the medical details of a family member.

Separately, any parent of a child under 12 or a person caring for a relative will have the right to request reduced or flexible working hours under the proposed legislation.

Employees must give six months’ notice when they make a request for more flexible working arrangements and an employer must respond within four weeks of a submission being made.

Employers refusing a request must engage with the employee and provide a reasonable excuse for their decision.

Mr O’Gorman’s spokesperson said an employer is entitled to refuse a request but “must provide a reason for doing so, and dispute resolution is provided for through the Workplace Relations Commission”.

The legislation will also see the number of weeks mothers are entitled to take time off work each day to breastfeed their children increase from 26 to 104 weeks.

Working women who are breastfeeding are currently entitled to take one hour, with pay, off work each day to breastfeed their child for six months. This will increase to two years.

The legislation is due before the Dáil in the coming weeks and follows workers’ rights laws introduced by the Government since it took office.