Right to disconnect from workWhat is the right to disconnect and what is the UK doing about it?

Despite Covid restrictions lifting allowing workers to return to the workplace, just 1 in 5 businesses aim to bring workers back into the office for five days a week. With the lines between work and home life becoming increasingly blurred due to homeworking, campaigners are calling for a legal right to disconnect to improve worker’s mental health and well-being.

Technology has changed the world of work and with it the ability for workers to turn off from their jobs. A recent survey involving 2,000 people found that two-fifths of workers admitted to checking their work emails or mobile phones at least five times a day outside of normal working hours.

What is a right to disconnect?

A right to disconnect permits workers to disconnect from work, which means they can switch off and not work beyond their normal working hours. They can enjoy their free time away from work without being disturbed, unless there is an emergency or agreement to do so, for example they are contracted to be ‘on call’.

The legal right to disconnect already exists in France, Spain, and Slovakia. And other European countries such as Germany, Netherlands and Luxembourg are currently debating the issue. Many of the largest companies in Germany have already voluntarily introduced policies to govern working time to ensure workers can take uninterrupted rest breaks. Ireland has recently introduced a Code of Practice for businesses on how to implement this right. The Code introduced the following key rights:

  • The right not to have to routinely work outside of normal working hours.
  • The right not to be penalized for refusing to work during non-working hours.
  • The duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect, for example not routinely emailing or calling them outside normal working hours.

What is happening in the UK?

The TUC recently introduced a manifesto pledge demanding a statutory right to disconnect and the union, Prospect has called for a legal requirement for companies to negotiate with staff and agree rules on when individuals cannot be contacted by their employer.

Last year the European Parliament approved a resolution asking the European Commission to introduce a Directive to set-out minimum requirements for remote working across the EU and a legal right to disconnect. The UK will of course not be bound by any EU Directive following Brexit, but it is hoped that the UK will respond positively to calls for the introduction of a legal right to disconnect and adopt something similar to this EU Directive. The main provisions are that member states must require employers to:

  • Establish a detailed written statement about any arrangements for switching off digital tools for work;
  • Encourage training and awareness of the right to disconnect in the workplace;
  • Allow employers to exclude the right to disconnect in only exceptional circumstances and that additional payments are made for any work undertaken outside normal working time;
  • Protection for workers to ensure that they do not suffer adverse treatment or are dismissed due to exercising or seeking to exercise their right to disconnect.

This area of employment law will continue to see significant and rapid development given the ongoing shift to hybrid working models and the increasing attention on employee health and wellbeing. It is hoped that the UK will take a leading stand on the right to disconnect as it becomes a fundamental part of working arrangements for workers in the EU and worldwide.

For advice or further information on the right to disconnect, call Henry Doswell of Doswell Law Solicitors on 01233 722942. Alternatively, email Henry at henry@doswell-law.com

Disclaimer: Whilst every reasonable effort is made to make the information and commentary contained in this blog accurate and up to date, Henry Doswell takes no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it. The information and commentary in this blog does not constitute legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. You are strongly advised to obtain specific, personal advice from a lawyer about your case or matter.