HR INFO | Do employees have a right to disconnect?

Are you glued to your smartphone even when on holiday?

Fretting when there are no wifi facilities nearby or you can’t get any phone signal?

With the extensive use of remote access, it has become the workplace norm for employees to check their emails or make calls while on annual leave.

For some, it gives them the peace of mind that everything is ticking along nicely in their absence and they won’t face a massive backlog once they return to work. For others, they feel this is simply what is expected of them.

Not taking time away from the workplace to relax and recharge your batteries can lead to a poor work-life balance, work-related stress and burnout. None of those things bode well for employers.

Do employees have a right to disconnect?

France has introduced a law, providing a ‘right to disconnect’. The UK has no such law. However, employers are still bound by working time and health and safety rules.

In accordance with the Working Time Regulations, the maximum weekly working time is 48 hours. The employee can opt-out of this working week limit by agreeing to this in writing. In many cases, a specific provision will be found in the employee’s Contract of Employment.

Employers also have a legal duty to ensure that workplaces are safe and healthy. They need to carry out a risk assessment to assess the risks of work-related stress and take measures or steps to control and reduce these risks.

Do we need a law?

Some argue that there is a need for government intervention to tackle this ’always on’ culture but others are in favour of leaving it up to employers and allowing them to implement the necessary internal measures.

Are companies taking any action?

Some employers do take steps to remind their employees that they are under no obligation to send or respond to emails outside their standard working hours, while others restrict their remote access.

Others have gone as far to delete emails that are sent to employees while on holiday.

What can employers do?

While it is probably impossible to impose a ban on all out of hours emails and calls, you can encourage them to break free from ’work mode’ while away on holiday.

To give them more peace of mind, make sure there is sufficient cover, a proper handover has been completed and that you agree on how to contact them if an emergency situation does come up.

If you do notice that someone is compulsively answering emails out of standard hours, you can send them a reminder or bring it up in their next review or feedback session.

You can also provide your managers with training on good management practices to curb those who do overload staff. In particular, you may need to provide training on how to spot signs of stress and what appropriate action they can take to remedy the situation.

If you need specific guidance and support, contact your Employment Law Adviser. No matter how big or small your enquiry, they can provide you with bespoke and practical advice.

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

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