Right to Disconnect

A new term that we have all been hearing in the last few months is ‘The Right to Disconnect’.

In light of the Covid-19 Pandemic, a new perspective has been placed on work-life balance, while we have always recognized that a balance between personal and professional life is essential, increased time at home throughout the past 18 months has shown us the importance and the need to disconnect from work and create a better balance – cue the initiative for Right to Disconnect.

The Code of Practice of Right to Disconnect is a forward-thinking initiative which has been designed to help meet the needs and preferences of people across the country as we move into a new age of digital and technological advances, in which we are seeing life in a more virtual, remote setting.

This code of practice was introduced on 1st April 2021, and came into immediate effect.

What is involved in the Right to Disconnect?

  1. The right of an employee to not routinely perform outside of normal working hours.
  2. The right to not be penalized for not attending work- or work-related matters outside of normal working hours
  3. The duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (through not routinely making contact outside of normal working hours)

These are the three main requirements of the Right to Disconnect and the objectives of the policies and procedures that companies are going to have to prioritize.

Breaking it down - What does this mean for employers and businesses?

Performance outside of normal working hours, is what we usually refer to as overtime.

The main objective of Right to Disconnect, is to limit the requirement, or expectation, for employees to complete overtime hours on a regular basis – and to not be penalized for refusing to do so.

Respecting another person’s right to disconnect refers to the recent concerns raised as a result of trends arising from remote working – where employees were responding round the clock, to emails, calls and messages.

Employees have taken on an assumed notion that since their personal space has now also become their work space, that they never really leave work, and will continue to work outside of their normal hours – and the only way to limit or stop this, is to reduce the emails, calls and messages being received outside of working hours.

What are you facing as an employer?

The biggest impact we will see is around overtime hours. While some businesses only engage in overtime work from time to time, some businesses rely on overtime hours.

Going forward, requiring team members to complete overtime will not be permitted. The offer may be there, but employees will have the right to refuse to undertake any additional hours outside of their contracted weekly hours of work, and they cannot be penalized for doing so.

This may mean that some businesses need to have alternative options available, or contingency plans, however the general willingness of employees to complete overtime has seemed to remain the same as previous.

Employers may need to review their current practices for communication outside of normal working hours.

For some businesses this may be a greater challenge than for others, when you consider that some companies operate around the clock, 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Regardless of the schedule of the companies operational activities, the schedule of the recipient of the communication should be considered. In the event that communications need to be sent, individuals should be considerate and mindful of the times, volume and frequency of such communications.

It is important that with the above in mind, employers review their policies, procedures and documentation in line with Right to Disconnect, ensuring that the correct processes are in place to ensure compliance with the legal requirements of Right to Disconnect.

Right to Disconnect is not something to be feared or a cause for concern – outside of regulating overtime hours, not a whole lot will change, apart from the need to change our mindsets and attitude towards the importance of leaving work – in work, and taking the time to disconnect and recharge.

Also, to be more mindful of colleagues and team members and their right to disconnect from work.

If you would like further advice and guidance on any of the issues raised here please do not hesitate to get in touch.

About the Author: Aoife Hanlon is a HR Executive at Corporate HR Ireland and can be reached at aoife@corporatehrireland.com

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