Labour’s employment rights proposition: The right to disconnect

Fri 17th May 2024

As a result of the pandemic, an increase in remote workers has precipitated a rise in favour of the Right to Disconnect. With the lines between work and home becoming blurred, unions and workers have increasingly looked at ways to protect workers’ health and wellbeing from overwork. In short, the Right to Disconnect is the right of workers to disconnect or log off outside of working hours. In the 2021 Green Paper “A New Deal for Working People”, Labour pledged to introduce a new Employment Rights Bill within 100 days of gaining power which legislated this right.

Currently, Labour is planning to bring in the ‘right to switch off’ should they win. Hypothetically, this is so remote working does not result in homes turning into 24/7 offices. Workers would have the right to disconnect from work outside of working hours. Furthermore, they will not be able to be contacted by their employer outside of these hours.

If the Right to Disconnect were to be enacted, what do employers need to know? Steph Marsh, Head of Coodes’ Employment team, and Ivelina White explain.

What is the Right to Disconnect?

  • The ability for workers to switch-off outside of normal working hours.
  • The right for workers to enjoy their free time away from work without being interrupted or disturbed.
  • The right for workers to not engage in work-related communications during non-work hours.

What do Employers Need to Know?

The Right to Disconnect is not yet a reality for workers and is not a legal right. However, it is likely to become one, along with other reforms envisaged in Labour’s 2021 Green Paper, if elected. Additionally, it is also unclear whether the Right to Disconnect would be an absolute right or would include some exceptions. For example, work-related emergencies or employees who are designated on-call.

If you are a business that offers agile or remote working, there are a few things you should consider:

  1. Ensure You Comply with the Working Time Regulations 1998

This piece of legislation provides for a working week of no more than 48 hours on average, calculated over a 17-week period. If workers are regularly remote working outside of their working hours, and have not “opted out”, employers might find themselves in breach. If opt-out agreements are not in place, employers should consider whether this would be necessary to ensure compliance with the Working Time Regulations.

  • Introduce A New Policy Informing Employees of the Right to Disconnect

Adopt a specific employment policy informing workers of their rights. Inform them that remote working doesn’t mean they should continue working into the evening. This can help with compliance from a legal perspective and create a better workplace environment.

  • Introduce New Practices and Systems

Remind employees that they are not required to deal with communications received outside of working hours. This is generally good practice and a way to instil the right to disconnect. Introducing a system reminding employees to disconnect after their normal working hours may also be helpful.

What’s next?

With the next general election expected in January 2025 at the latest, should Labour win, the Right to Disconnect could be implemented within 100 days of them gaining power. Subsequently this would require employers to make the above changes to ensure they are operating within the law.

Even if this doesn’t become law, it is still good practise to ensure you have measures in place to protect staff. And with April’s recent changes to employment law, employers are still having to implement policy and practice changes to things like flexible working and leave entitlement.

If you are looking for information or guidance on employment law policies, or how to prepare for any upcoming changes, our Employment Team can help. Whether you are an employer or employee, the Employment Team always stay at the forefront of any upcoming legislative changes. They can offer the most up-to-date advice and get to know your case fully.

For more information, you can contact Associate Steph Marsh from our Employment Team via email or by calling 01579 324017. Alternatively, you can find all of our contact information and online contact form here.

Fri 17th May 2024

Steph Marsh

Head of Employment

Ivelina White

Paralegal

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