Checking email at home
30 July 2021 | Business, News

Practicalities of a Right to Disconnect Policy

Working from home can easily cause a blurring of the work day and personal time.  With the temptation to “just quickly check my email” at 8pm on a Friday evening too great for many, governments have been investigating the creation of legislation that would give employees the right to logoff from work-related services, such as email, Slack, Zoom, and so on.

The COVID pandemic has brought the issue to the fore, with huge numbers of people working from home for the first time, for extended periods of time.  Those who are experienced in working from home, such as freelancers, may already have methods that enable them turn off from work, but the notification icon on people’s phones easily becomes the source of niggling anxiety for many.

The simplest strategies that governments are looking at involve setting a cap on the working day or week, or limiting communications outside core hours.  However, the last year has shown that those working from home may prefer to flex their working day, sometimes starting work early or finishing late in order to make use of daytime hours for personal projects or errands, so a Right to Disconnect policy would need to consider an individual’s preferences and needs.

In April 2021, Ireland introduced a Code of Practice which gives guidance to organisations that are considering implementing a Right to Disconnect policy.  The code sets out three key rights:

  • an employee is afforded the right to not have to routinely work outside their normal hours;
  • an employee may not be penalised for not attending to work issues outside their usual hours;
  • an employee has a duty to respect a colleague’s right to disconnect by, for example, not emailing or calling them outside normal working hours.

Ireland’s new code prohibits management from attempting to contact employees out of hours, and also gives employees the right to disable or switch off communications devices while not at work.

Of course, there are occasions on which out-of-hours communication from colleagues must be made, but Right to Disconnect policies or legislation could limit this to emergency issues only, such as Disaster Recovery events, urgent changes to COVID policies, etc.  If an organisation does not implement such a policy, it is possible that a competitor would and could then attract experienced employees from those organisations.

At the moment the UK government has not indicated an intention to introduce new legislation along this vein, but any company could create its own policy to encourage its team to switch off from work to enjoy free time, and, hopefully, return to work after a weekend better rested and refreshed.

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