Right to Disconnect

In recent times, more businesses have adopted remote or flexible working methods.

However, it’s become increasingly harder to regulate working hours, weekly rest periods, and overtime. In some cases, managers are the ones encouraging these behaviours.

Employers have a moral duty to establish a right to disconnect. Meaning, that they must not contact employees for any work-related task outside work times. (Unless there is an emergency or where there is an agreement to do so).

Failing agreement for this can lead to work-related burnout and disruption to personal and family life.

In this guide, we’ll look at what a right to disconnect is, UK laws on disconnecting, and how to manage it in your workplace.

What is a right to disconnect?

A right to disconnect refers to employees having no obligation to their job role outside their normal working hours.

This means not having to answer telephone calls, emails, or other messages beyond their working day. It also includes not having to remain ‘logged-in’ or available around the clock.

As an employer, it’s important to protect their work-life balance.

Why is the right to disconnect necessary?

After the rise in flexible working, employees started to blur the lines of their workdays.

They worked past their normal hours, neglected breaks, and kept switched on. Employees felt the need to demonstrate work beyond their means. It might have been due to the need to maintain standards or because of pressures from higher authorities.

It’s arguable that working remotely leads to an increase in productivity and success. But it can also cause negative impacts on mental health and wellbeing.

More employees suffered from working-from-home burnout and extreme overtime. Some felt unable to disconnect in case it reflected badly on them. They gave up their free time because they were worried it could affect things like career progression or training opportunities.

In the end, both the UK government and businesses started to look into the importance of disconnecting for those who work flexibly.

What are the UK laws on the right to disconnect?

Unlike other countries, there is no legal requirement to encourage disconnecting from work in the UK. However, you have a legal duty to ensure all employees (both in the office and outside) work within the safest standards.

The UK government has reviewed proposals for a right to disconnect legislation. Many state the legal framework can be added to the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Potential amendments state UK workers will have the right to reject tasks given outside of their normal working hours; as well as communication during non-work hours.

However, some argue the amendments may not be applicable to workplaces on a wider level. Some businesses might have their own requirements when it comes to things like, being ‘on-call’ or working overtime). Unless there is an emergency or there is an agreement to do so, i.e., being ‘on-call’).

What about the Working Time Regulations?

Whilst there isn’t a specific right to disconnect legislation yet, there are relevant laws that can be applied.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 states, employees cannot perform more than 48 hours per average. This is normally accountable over 17-week period.

But different rules apply for public and private sector jobs. And employees have a right to opt out, too.

The act also highlights the legal amount of a worker’s rest periods per week. Altogether, the act protects employee health & safety, as well as the welfare of new remote workers.

Which European countries have the right to disconnect legislation?

In recent times, more European countries have outlined a new law on the right to disconnect. These EU countries include France, Spain, Slovakia, and Portugal.

Each of them has its own variations for the legal requirement. But they all share an overarching right not to encourage communication outside of normal working hours. And more importantly, not to penalise employees for rejecting unreasonable work requests.

Here are some examples of a legal right to disconnect in other European countries:

Right to disconnect in France

In 2013, France led the way in recognising this legal right. The agreement highlighted the importance of quality of life for both on-location and remote workers. It pushed the importance of establishing a healthy balance between personal and professional life.

Later in 2016, the agreement was established in French law as a ‘right to professional disconnection’. The ‘El Khomri’ law highlighted rules on things like:

  • Duration of work: Employees cannot work more than 46 contracted hours weekly. Anything more requires justification, as well as mutual agreement.
  • Collecting bargaining: Employers must establish collective agreement on employee working conditions and matters which directly affect them. (But votes are only valid if they’re agreed to by a majority percentage of employees and trade union representatives).
  • Economic redundancy: Employees are protected from economic redundancies relating to work losses or business deterioration.

For French businesses with more than 50 workers, employers need to refer to the Mandatory Annual Negotiation (MAN). This is used as a ‘charter of good conduct’ and is adhered to in addition to the Khomri law.

Right to disconnect in Portugal

Portugal recently introduced new legislation which makes it illegal for employers to text or email their staff beyond normal working hours.

The new law mentions a ‘right to rest’ which highlights the importance of a work-life balance. Especially after working remotely has fast become the norm.

If a Portuguese business (with more than 10 employees) neglects the law, they could face fines of up to €10,000 if found guilty.

Right to disconnect in Ireland

Closer to home, the Irish government has introduced a Code of Practice for the right to disconnect. The new laws set out three legal human rights:

  1. The right of an employee to not have to routinely perform work outside of their normal work hours.
  2. The right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of their normal work hours.
  3. The duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (e.g., by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours).

If an employee believes they were treated unfairly, they may raise their claim to the Labour Court or the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

This is especially common when an employee believes they’ve been discriminated against for not working overtime or being readily available (either online or on-call).

How to manage the right to disconnect in the workplace

Switching off outside of working hours might seem like a difficult matter to manage.

Whilst there is no legal requirement, you do hold a moral obligation. Remember, you must allow employees to establish solid boundaries between their work and home life.

Here are ways to manage an employee’s right to disconnect within your workplace:

Encourage open discussions on the right to disconnect

Make sure you have open and honest discussions with all employees. They must be able to acknowledge expectations for their job–and what isn’t required from them.

Employees must be aware of how to improve work life balance on an individual scale. Set these guidelines through a right-to-disconnect policy.

Provide remote managerial training

Offer training to your senior employees to strengthen their remote managerial skills. This should include everything from remote management to online communication skills.

Such a measure is especially helpful for managing employees who work remotely. Keep work communications balanced, monitor daily rest breaks, and outline a strict finishing time for all.

Introduce monitoring technology equipment

As we live in a digital age, it’s easy to utilise monitoring technology tools within your business. Digital tools can include software and apps which measure productivity and achievements on a day-to-day basis.

But this type of digital technology isn’t about seeing whether employees are hitting targets. They can be used to manage levels of productivity, pinpoint demotivation, and eliminate burnout.

With these digital tools, work-related communications have become readily accessible. But remember, it does not mean you use them to retain contact for more than what’s necessary.

Establish safe remote working standards

Whatever your business is, it’s important to establish safe remote working standards. This means employers should be fair and just when it comes to objectives and expectations.

Adhering to the legal rules and requirements for safe working standards is a must. In the end, it’s not just your business that’s safe. Employees’ physical and mental health are both protected.

Remember, the right to disconnect is all about focusing on the outcome rather than the process.

Get expert guidance on the right to disconnect with Peninsula

All businesses should establish solid working conditions, regardless of whether employees work at home or on-site.

As an employer, you need to establish how the right to disconnect fits into your business. Remember, these changes can be as small as banning phone calls outside of working hours (except in emergencies) or disconnecting access at certain times.

Whatever your means, Peninsula offers expert guidance on the right to disconnect. Our team offers HR documentation and contract services for all. And our 24/7 HR advice is available 365 days a year; with multi-lingual support and fully trained counsellors ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free chat with one of our HR consultants. For further information, call 0800 028 2420

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