ICTU Submission on Right to Request Remote Working

12 May 2021

worker with coffee and laptop

Congress has contributed to a public consultation on the introduction of a right to request remote working. In her submission, Dr.Laura Bambrick Social Policy Officer warned that working from homes or hubs could involve AI technology. This can count keystrokes and emails or record time spent on social media and use photographic records taken via webcam.

The purpose of the consultation is to seek views on the introduction of a statutory right for employees to request remote working, according to Government.

Dr Bambrick said for many workers flexible and remote working is not just an optional ‘nice to have' perk of the job. Access to flexible arrangements is vital to be able to enter employment or remain in the workplace.

Congress, therefore, recommends the legislation requires employers to publish flexible and remote working options in job adverts and gives the new postholder the right to take up the advertised flexibility from day one. Trust is crucial for remote working arrangements to be effective.

In her submission, Dr. Bambrick said employers, remote workers, and their office-based colleagues need to trust each other that work will be completed in a timely and effective manner and that productivity does not suffer because of remote working. An employer is already permitted to monitor activities, within limits. For example, monitoring the use of the company’s phone and email, and social media activity. However, all monitoring must be necessary, legitimate, and proportionate to workers’ right to privacy. An employer’s ICT policy must clearly make workers aware of any monitoring and must set out why monitoring may take place, the nature of the monitoring, how the information will be used, and who will have access to it. Covert surveillance is only permitted in extreme cases, such as if there are grounds to suspect criminal activity or serious malpractice, and only for a limited period. 

Congress is concerned by the general trend towards the use of AI-powered technologies and software products by employers for a variety of purposes, including candidate selection, performance evaluation (who gets a bonus/ promoted), redundancy decisions etc. AI-driven technology used to monitor employee activity while working from home can count the number of mouse clicks, keystrokes, emails in an hour, record time spent on social media sites, and take photographic ‘timecards’ every 10 minutes via a webcam. In the EU draft regulations on the use of AI applications, published last week, AI systems used in employment, worker management, and access to platform work were classed as high-risk.

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