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Should UK employers consider giving workers a ‘right to disconnect’?

January 11, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Some have argued that limiting an employee's access to emails outside of work hours could boost both wellbeing and productivity.

This is exactly what has happened in France where legislation has been introduced which has given workers a legal right to ignore work-related emails outside of their normal working hours. The legislation only affects businesses with more than 50 employees with the aim of encouraging staff to take a proper break and escape the ‘always on’ culture.

Remote Working / Remote Access

Worker stress

Employers need to take the health and wellbeing of workers seriously. There has been a significant increase in the proportion of tribunal claims citing work-related stress as a contributory factor. Employers should be concerned over the impact excessive job pressure could have on someone’s productivity.

There are likely to be many causes: smartphones and remote access facilities have contributed to a culture where employers and customers assume that employees are available 24 hours a day.

A Harris Poll of 2,000 UK employees conducted for jobs review site Glassdoor found that over half of all participants, admitted to doing some work while on holiday. Of those employees who worked on holiday, one in ten said they were worried about getting behind with their work; a similar number said were hoping for a pay rise; whilst one in twenty were concerned they would lose their job.

Working Time Regulations 1998

The Working Time Regulations 1998 are intended to protect the health and safety of workers by making sure they take adequate rest. The equivalent French legislation specifies that the default working week should not extend beyond 35 hours (in the UK it is 48 hours with most employers taking advantage of being able to ask their staff to opt out and work longer).

Employers should ensure their workers aren’t over-using digital devices during their downtime or holidays. While they may not want to go as far as enforcing a blanket ban, business should do what they can to avoid issuing instructions that require an out-of-hours response. Similarly, they should be mindful not to send instructions to employees after the working day ends, or over the weekend.

Blanket ban

For many businesses, banning workers from accessing their inboxes or communicating with clients out of hours is simply not practical or realistic. However, employers could introduce procedures that encourage employees to take a proper break during their annual leave.

Even though legislation is unlikely to be introduced here, employers should not ignore the issues that can arise from out of hours use of digital devices and should take steps to encourage all employees to adopt a healthy lifestyle and promote work-life balance.

About the Author

Philip McCabe Photo

Philip McCabe is an experienced employment lawyer who has been advising businesses and individuals on a wide range of employment and HR issues since 2000.

He is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association, Industrial Law Society, and Law Society. He regularly writes for national publications on employment law issues and is a regular columnist in the Derbyshire Times.

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