After more than a year of working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the country’s work force and its employers have adapted to the “new normal” of home working, which like anything has its positives and negatives.
Whilst it has allowed, some employees, more flexibility with their working arrangements, it has also created an environment for many, where they are unable to escape the pressures of their professional lives and find themselves working and being “digitally” contactable beyond their contracted hours and into the evenings and weekends. These longer hours impact on both private life and mental health and raises the question of, when do employees have a right to disconnect from their professional lives?
“Right to Disconnect” in Europe
The European Parliament, earlier this year, asked the EU Commission to look into this issue, to develop a new EU Law, which, would give employees a right to disconnect from work-related tasks during non-work hours without consequences and to establish minimum standards for remote working. The European Parliament, has since, in January 2021, voted in favour of the report on the “Right to Disconnect”.
Some countries within Europe have already introduced measures to address this, for example, companies in France with more than 50 employees are now required to set out times when staff should not be sending or answering emails. Similarly, Ireland have recently introduced a right to disconnect, to prevent employees having to routinely work outside of their normal hours.
Application to the United Kingdom
Whilst following Brexit, the introduction of such a right in the EU will not have a direct effect on UK legislation anymore, ministers in the United Kingdom are being challenged to deal with the “Right to Disconnect” issue also.
The union Prospect, whom represent scientists, engineers, tech workers etc, want companies to be legally required to consult with staff and agree rules on, when people are unable to be contacted for professional purposes and have called for a “Right to Disconnect” provision be included within UK legislation.
To date we are not aware of any direct response from government on the issue, however we are aware that a new employment bill is due to be published in 2021 which will impact on employment rights in the UK. In relation to the employment bill a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy, has been quoted as saying “The employment bill, when introduced, will deliver the largest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation, including measures that will help people to balance work with their personal lives.” Whether or not the government will use the opportunity to include provisions on the right to disconnect in this new bill remains to be seen.
Current points for Employers to Note
Whilst, as discussed above, there is no current specific “Right to Disconnect” provision within UK legislation, employers are still bound by working time and health and safety rules. In doing this, employers should bear in mind the following, in relation to home working:
- Culture of the Workplace: when senior staff continue to communicate with their team during out of office hours, this encourages the rest of their team to follow suit. It may be an idea to schedule outgoing emails, so they may be sent during out of office hours but are received by the recipient during working hours or include some text within that correspondence, that states that a response is not expected outside working hours;
- Breaks: encourage employees to take breaks when they switch off from work, including encouraging employees to take their entitled lunch break or scheduling a social call with the team;
- Relevant Training: employers may want to ensure that they are providing their managers with suitable training, to ensure that they do not overload employees, to assist with spotting signs of stress in employees and how to remedy or help alleviate stress within their workforce; and
- Restrict Remote Access: some employers may consider restricting their employees’ access during the evenings or the weekend, to ensure employees are taking rest time away from work.
For more information on the changes mentioned within this blog, please contact a member of the Employment Team.