Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect
It has come to light during the Covid-19 restrictions, that employees have found it difficult to switch off from work. To ensure that they are protected from overwork, the Government has asked the WRC to draw up a code of practice on the right to disconnect for approval by the Minister. It will be possible to refer to the code of practice in disputes and adjudications.
Under the National Remote Work Strategy, employees who request working from home, will also have the right to disconnect.
European Parliament proposes EU-wide ‘right to disconnect’
Last week the European Parliament published a new EU-wide directive on the right to disconnect. This would add more impetus to the forthcoming code of practice from the WRC.
The European Parliament states that member states would have to ensure that employers “take the necessary measures to provide workers with the means to exercise their right to disconnect”.
They state that employers would have to setup “an objective, reliable and accessible system enabling the duration of time worked each day by each worker to be measured, in accordance with workers’ right to privacy and to the protection of their personal data”.
This would include things such as:
- The practical arrangements for switching off digital tools for work purposes
- The system for measuring working time
- Health and safety assessments
- Awareness raising and training measures
So what does it mean for Employers?
It is a worker’s right to be able to disengage with work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communications, such as emails or other messages, during non-work hours and holidays.
There will be a new legally admissible code of practice on the right to disconnect from work.
Compliance will be dependent on both the employer and the employee taking equal responsibility to record working time, to consider flexible working arrangements, to monitor workload and productivity so that employees can disconnect. For a lot of businesses, this will require a cultural shift.
The Right to Disconnect in other Countries
Other European countries have had this right to disconnect in place for some time. The right to disconnect comes from a 2003 EU directive that covers working time. While EU Directives are not legally binding, they require that member states legislate to achieve the same results.
In France, some companies have gone so far as introducing measures including cutting email connections in the evening and weekends or even destroying emails automatically that are sent to employees’ while they are on holiday.
Spain, Italy and Belgium have put their own directives in place. In Spain, employees in private and public sector are entitled to disconnect outside of their working time.
Ireland’s Right to Disconnect Case
In Ireland in 2018, a business development executive at a subsidiary of meat producer Kepak was awarded €7,500 over being required to deal with out-of-hours work emails, including some after midnight, that led to work in excess of 48 hours a week, i.e. repeated breaches of the Organisation of Working Time Act.
Some employers have begun implementing measures such as an email sign-off such as:
“I am cognisant of the fact that I may be sending this email to you outside of what is typically defined as “normal” office hours. If this is the case. I understand that you will reply to my email within your own working hours and have no expectation for you to reply outside of those hours. Thank you.”
Upcoming Code of Practice
When the code of practice is complete, there will be more clarity for employers, however, employers should put the item on the agenda for discussion at this stage and engage with stakeholders to begin preparing their strategy on the right to disconnect.
Need advice and support on the Right to Disconnect?
If you need advice, support, policies, procedures, guidance on the right to disconnect, CollierBroderick are here to help.
We provide employers with support and advice, by phone, email, virtually and on-site, for all employment law and HR matters.