The Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill was brought to Cabinet yesterday.

The new bill aims to give effect to an EU Work Life Balance Directive.

The Minister for Equality Roderic O'Gorman said the Work Life Balance bill is about recognising the "importance" of balancing caring and parenting roles with work responsibilities.

He said there are three key elements to it - giving parents and carers the right to request flexible work, offering five days unpaid leave for medical care reasons and an extension on the amount of time a person can take a break to breastfeed.

"Where an employee requests flexible work they can seek compressed working hours, seek the right to work remotely or they can seek shorter working hours," the Minister said.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, he said the employee must first make the request to the employer six weeks in advance, and the employer has to come back to them within four weeks.

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"The test set out in the law is the employer balances the needs of the employee with the needs of the workplace," he said.

He said an employer can refuse granting the request and that can then be challenged in the Workplace Relations Commission.

Minister O'Gorman acknowledged that the five days unpaid leave is "limited" to caring for someone only in their own home.

"This is draft legislation and we will be looking at the measures. We are also seeking to implement EU law as well and it is necessary to stick closely to the definition under EU law," he stated.

The Minister said the legislation needs to be implemented by the end of August and he hopes to have it through both houses by the end of July.

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Linda Hynes, partner at employment law firm Lewis Silkin, said the new bill is designed to modernise Irish legislation to align it with the EU's Work Life Balance Directive, which counts among its aims an increase in the number of women in the workforce.

"Ireland is actually quite compliant with a lot of the provisions of the legislation," she said. "We do have a lot of leave that would be covered by a lot of the areas of the directive, but the flexible working would probably be the biggest area where we're not compliant [at present]."

She said the details of the bill's provision were still unclear, but it appeared to offer the right to request flexible working to a broader category than is required under the EU directive.

Despite that, it still falls short of giving all workers the right to request flexible working.

It is also expected that employers would be entitled to refuse a flexible working request on similar grounds to those proposed as part of the Government's hybrid working legislation.

"There will be a requirement to give reasons for the refusals, for why these arrangements can't be facilitated," Ms Hynes. "So very much along the lines of what we see in terms of the right to request remote work - we expect it to be quite similar."

Ms Hynes says that different countries already have some flexible working provisions in place and the Irish legislation may have drawn inspiration from some of those examples.

"The UK has had a right to request flexible working for a number of years, once an employee has 26 weeks service," she said. "Within that there is very specific guidance on how the process works for requesting flexible working arrangements and what an employer must do.

"France has a lot of rights around flexible working, including that employees can request working hours reductions for family reasons, and in that situation employers can only refuse a request where they can actually show that they have objective, operational reasons. So really getting down to what's the business reason that you can't facilitate that request."